Judge Brett Cullum looks just like Buddy Holly, when he goes to France to seek out complicated widows.
A strange love affair that can't possibly end well.
A mysteriously intense university lecturer and writer (Ethan Hawke, Reality Bites) travels to Paris to try and see his daughter and estranged wife. After being rebuked he ends up staying in a seedy hostel and working for the proprietor who has many things to hide. At a literary party he meets a mysterious widow (Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient) who romances him with strict rules about exact hours when they can meet. Meanwhile he falls for the hostel owner's girlfriend and fights with his neighbor, who he has to share a toilet with. Things get more and more complicated, and the story begins to veer into a supernatural realm, asking: what is imagination and why is it more important than reality?
The Woman in the Fifth is an arty film shot by acclaimed Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, and it certainly is a handsome, enigmatic affair. It's half in English and half in French, and everything is polished, though off-kilter. Ethan Hawke gives a nervy, vibrant performance of a man with a violent institutional past that may be catching up with him all too quickly. Kristin Scott Thomas is an icy beauty who glides through her bit parts with grace and cool ease. Both actors do a fine job, although you may wish for more substance by the time the credits roll. It's a twisty, turny ride that offers no hope of an easy explanation or fast resolve. Detractors may find this tedious, but to me it just feels French.
The DVD offers a standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is polished enough to showcase the impressive photography; clear and saturated appropriately. The French language Dolby 5.1 Surround mix is rich and atmospheric, showcasing composer Max de Wardener's score. There's also a Dolby 2.0 Stereo English dub, for those who prefer not to read subtitles, but it's a cheat and disrupts the flow of the film. The lone extra is a "making of" featurette, offering all the major players a chance to express what they think of the film.
Some will find this flick frustrating, while others may see it as sublime. Either way, it's an artsy piece that broods and takes its time going nowhere, the performances lending it an air of authority and heft. If you like your films dark with a dash of David Lynch, you might well enjoy The Woman in the Fifth.
Guilty of being a long sigh with a touch of insanity.
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