I saw The Woman in the Fifth. Watched the whole thing. But I can’t tell you what happens in the film. Which is to say, I can’t tell you what actually happens in the film because I’m not certain myself.
Director Pawel Pawlikowski’s work is an infuriating cheat, creating a sense of mystery for its own sake, even when the mysteries turn out to be meaningless or pretentiously nonsensical. The film’s big reveal is only slightly better than if it had all turned out to be a dream that Bob Newhart had just before waking up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette. Actually, maybe that would have been better.
If you remain intrigued enough to want to hear more, here’s the plot synopsis on the Internet Movie Database: “A college lecturer flees to Paris after a scandal costs him his job. In the City of Light, he meets a widow who might be involved in a series of murders.”
That is not what happens. Yes, former college professor and novelist Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) goes to Paris. And, yes, Paris is nicknamed the City of Light. That’s about all I can vouch for.
Tom is in Paris to see his French ex-wife Nathalie (Delphine Chuillot) and daughter Chloe (Julie Papillon). There are references to his having been sick and in a hospital. Nathalie is frightened of him and calls the police to drive him away. We never learn anything more about what occurred before the film’s story began.
Tom does meet a widow, Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas), but she’s never implicated in a series of murders. She seems to be every writer’s fantasy of what a living, breathing muse would be. He rents a dirty room above a dingy café. He takes up with the young Polish girl (Joanna Kulig) who works there, not realizing she’s the girlfriend of his landlord, Sezer (Samir Guesmi).
Sezer hires Tom to sit in a tiny room alone in some sort of underground mechanical space and press a button to open a door to anyone who recites the correct password. Tom’s curiosity is piqued by whatever’s happening behind a door down the hall, where the men he lets in are going, but nothing ever comes of this subplot.
Anyway, then there is a murder. That’s followed by what is supposed to be a hugely startling revelation, though the movie drops enough hints that it’s about to go off the rails that you’re more likely to yawn than to gasp in response. That I can say for sure.