- The narrative is intentionally opaque and that must have dissuaded most critics but they missed out here—closest relative would be to Cronenberg’s underrated (and impenetrable to most Spider from 2002). But the visual aplomb is in the lineage of Antonioni and the formal creation strong as well
- Abstract shallow focus opening—great blocking of the mise-en-scene and photography throughout
- Shoots the same alley over and over (formal rendering) as a cutaway or Ozu-like pillow shot
- Shallow-focus throughout like Antonioni’s Red Desert– getting into Hawke’s fractured psyche- he’s trapped, it’s a bit of an existential nightmare
- Scott Thomas is very good here in her scenes— her apparently draped in deep red color
- Two paths of the railroad tracks shot evenly—splitting the frame with a tree—a wonderful shot
- The establishing shot or cutaways – just dazzling photography
- The glasses Hawke wears are significant- shared with daughter and he mentions they “see the world the same way”
- Same shot of the hallway like the alley—cutting again to the owl multiple times towards the finale—formal rendering
- Smart casting have Ethan Hawke as the writer
- There’s a shot on the ground (camera) in the grass—the frame is blocked like Von Sternberg with grass blades in the foreground
- Focuses solely on Scott Thomas during the lovemaking
- In bed we get the trademark Ingmar Bergman framing of the faces—Scott Thomas is in the foreground in shallow focus
- Spiral staircase elegant shot
- Hawke shot through bars (and he’s literally in jail later)—there’s a spider in the web
- Slipping out of reality- the scene where he yells in the street is great
- Pawlikowski frequently cuts the frame in half with objects
- Formal construction- we go back to the shallow focus forest opening
- Great shot of a column breaking up the frame with Hawke’s polish lover on one side and a man at the bar on the other- it’s gorgeous
- 84 minutes which has become a trademark now of Pawlikowski
- Like Red Desert or Spider it’s really a film about POV
- Ebert was one of the few critics to like the film- in his review he called for a shot-by-shot analysis
- Starts slower stylistically but it’s still formally set up very well- the film gets better visually as Hawke’s psyche become less and less sound
- Lots in common with Antonioni’s L’Eclisse
- The shot of Hawke’s head breaking up the frame with his lawyer on one side and the translator on the other—then goes the wrong way out of that meeting—shows he devolving
- Pillow shots of tree, railing
- Antonioni used these to show our inability to connect. Here it’s about his breaking from reality
- HR/MS border
Will you add Hawke in your top 100 , the next time you update.
His top 5 would look like this-
1. Before sunset
2. Before midnight
4. First reformed
5. Woman in fifth or before sunrise
The only thing that’s stopping me from a campaign for his inclusion is that in his top 3 performances he’s overshadowed by his female co-star, first reformed is a career best performance but movie’s not on that level also he’s excellent in woman in fifth but its not a “performance-movie” his performance benefits the film but if you remove him, it remains as strong as it is.
Also I think ur top 100 is solid and unarguable.
The only thing I disagree is the low placement of Ralph finnes. He’s top 30 in talent , top 40 in resume and if you combine both he’s top 35ish.
@M*A*S*H- I think there is a really strong case for Ethan Hawke. I really haven’t gone about the process of updating it yet- perhaps next year– but I would be a little surprised if he doesn’t find a way onto the list at that time.
Is Scott Thomas one of the year’s best? I think she’s phenomenal.
I caught up with this one a couple of weeks ago, and I found it a very fulfilling experience (or fulfillingly unfulfilling- gee). It is definitely not Pawlikowski’s finest hour, but I think the reason it slipped under the radar was that people couldn’t really read through it, which is a shame honestly. There is a great deal of formal rigor here, as you mention above with the shots in the park, the nightwatching and “Forest Life” the title of his book and also the thread that pieces the disjointed narrative together formally. The photography is quite impressive and the use of red effective. You are certainly right – this is a POV film. Most of what we see is a manifestation of Ethan Hawke’s madness (he is appropriately disoriented here, and carries the film well). We get a lot of hints from the get go that he is mentally unwell, and we slowly witness him unravel. Kristin Scott Thomas, the woman in the fifth (very little screen time here, though a very strong presence – she is hypnotic, opaque and gives the film an ominous, mysterious quality of intensity when she’s on) is the incarnation of his darkness. There is a lot of ambiguity. We don’t ever learn whether Hawke was really the murderer or the owner of the motel did it. Even if Hawke was in fact responsible for the killing, he has no knowledge or concsiousness of it. Forest life plays such a crucial role here because we understand that it is his safe place – the shared world he created with his daughter so as to connect with her. But it also acquires a darker tone. Near the end we are led to believe that the girl was harmed by Scott Thomas (aka mad Ethan Hawke) in the woods, near the forest life. Eventually, Hawke agrees to be consumed by the darkness within him, totally relinquish himself to it and cut ties with his family, in an attempt to protect them – and so the girl returns home safely. There is also this persisting idea that suffering leads to creation and transcendence. Scott Thomas pushes him towards reckless abandon and isolation with the notion that in such a way he will transcend as a writer. In the end, he gives himself to her. And the rest is up for debate. I found there was something to be desired in the film, but overall it is quite a unique vision and I don’t think one can chalk it up to pretentiousness. Thank you for recommending it to us – it is an interesting piece of cinema.
@Georg – Excellent work here. Glad you were able to catch it with this one- it feels like far too few have caught up with this one.
[…] The Woman in the Fifth – Pawlikowski […]