R (sexual content, strong languages, violent images); 85 min.
This movie is not recommended for people who need to know what's going on. The Woman in the Fifth, an English- and French-language film from Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, is watchable and enjoyable, but it's fairly impenetrable and gets more peculiar as it goes along.
Based on the novel by Douglas Kennedy, it stars Ethan Hawke as a fish-out-of-water American in Paris, a once-promising writer whose life has derailed. His French wife has a restraining order against him and won't let him see their 6-year-old daughter. He is robbed on a bus and ends up staying in a flophouse and working as a night watchman -- in a part of Paris no tourist ever sees.
Things seem to get a bit better when he meets a fascinating widow, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, who speaks English here but acts the way she does in her French movies. That is, sexy and insinuating. He also meets a beautiful young waitress, played by Joanna Kulig, the Polish actress best known for her role in Elles.
Actually, it's quite possible that The Woman in the Fifth is not impenetrable, after all, just really, really weird. To say more than that would say too much. But I'm voting for really, really weird. In any case, Hawke's performance -- sympathetic, in pain, sensitive and on edge -- leaves open all possibilities.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas
-- Mick LaSalle,
San Francisco Chronicle