The Woman in the Fifth

The Woman in the Fifth

Kristin Scott Thomas and Ethan Hawke as seen in THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH, a film by Pawel Pawlikowski. Picture courtesy ATO Pictures. All rights reserved.

The Woman in the Fifth

Also Starring:
Based on theThe Novel by :
Executive Producer:
Photography Director:
Production Designer:
Costume Designer:
Original Music:
Associate Producer:
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* Most external filmography links go to The Internet Movie Database.

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The Woman in the Fifth (2011/2012)

Opened: 06/15/2012 Limited

Lincoln Plaza06/15/2012 - 06/28/201214 days
Village East06/15/2012 - 06/28/201214 days
Washington, DC06/15/2012 - 06/21/20127 days
San Diego, CA06/15/2012 - 06/21/20127 days
Seattle, WA06/15/2012 - 06/21/20127 days
San Francisco06/15/2012 - 06/21/20127 days
Los Angeles06/22/2012 - 07/05/201214 days
Tempe, AZ06/22/2012 - 06/28/20127 days
Chicago, IL06/22/2012 - 06/28/20127 days
Dallas, TX06/22/2012 - 06/28/20127 days
New Haven, CT06/29/2012 - 07/05/20127 days
Bloomfield Hil...06/29/2012 - 07/05/20127 days
Denver, CO07/06/2012 - 07/12/20127 days
Palm Desert, CA07/06/2012 - 07/12/20127 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home

Genre: Thriller

Rated: R for for some sexual content, language and violent images.


American novelist Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) arrives in Paris determined to renew a relationship with his estranged young daughter, Chloe (Julie Papillon), whom he is desperate to see. When the longed-for meeting goes poorly -- he flees after his wife Nathalie (Delphine Chuillot) notifies the police that he has violated a restraining order--he ends up in a seedy hostel on the outskirts of the city. Unable to pay for his room and board, he agrees to work as a night guard at a warehouse for the dubious proprietor, Sezer (Samir Guesmin), though he has no idea what the vaguely criminal types who access the building at odd hours are doing there, or what, if anything, they might be hiding. Locked in a basement room with a bank of monitors, he spends the hours writing elaborate, imaginative letters to Chloe that center around a mystical forest, and later makes an unwise attempt to visit her at the schoolyard.

Something of a curiosity back at Sezer's cafe, Tom elicits the sympathy and amorous attention of Ania (Joanna Kulig), a Polish barmaid with an interest in poetry, and has unpleasant run-ins with his menacing, openly hostile hallmate, Omar (Mamadou Minte). Then one evening, invited to a posh literary gathering by an Englishlanguage bookseller who recognizes him from a dust-jacket photo, Tom meets Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas), an enigmatic translator whose magnetic presence and worldly manner intrigue the down-and-out author, more starved for love and comfort than sophisticated company. She seduces him, haughtily dictating the time and place of their rendezvous in the Fifth Arrondissement. Margit's muse-like influence on Tom only deepens as she boldly encourages him to abandon all other priorities, including family, and focus on novel writing. But their passionate affair coincides with a string of inexplicable events--a murder, a disappearance--and slowly Tom's anxieties and inner torments begin to derange his sense of what's real...

Director's Statement

Disguised as a mystery thriller, THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH is in effect a very precise description of a familiar condition. Tom Ricks wants it all -- admiration, literary greatness, love, family -- and he refuses to accept that all of these desires have a price and could be mutually exclusive. As Tom's grip on reality weakens and the facts of his life begin to fuse with fiction, he slides into a nightmare from which there's no waking up.

Our film dramatizes the mental disintegration of a man who fails to pay attention to the outside world, who lives in his own head and is totally incapable of understanding his true motives. It's a condition I'm familiar with and it's what first attracted me to the material. In that sense, Tom Ricks is not unlike the protagonists of my other films, from my first documentary MOSCOW TO PIETUSHKI to LAST RESORT.

The Paris of this film is an unfamiliar and ambiguous landscape -- a Paris of the mind. I wanted to achieve this sensation without any trickery or special effects, but by means of subtle stylization, i.e. through the choice of locations, framing, lighting, and a creative use of sound. I've employed such defamiliarization strategies in my previous films, but in THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH, I went much further to turn Margit's apartment and Sezer's warehouse -- where unspeakable things may or may not be happening -- into a Lynchian netherworld reflecting the progressive derangement of our hero.

Though the world of the film is stylized and dream-like, the acting needed to be as psychologically 'real' as possible. For the novelist hero I chose Ethan Hawke, an actor with a keen intellect and imagination -- qualities that are simply impossible to act for those who don't have them. Ethan also happens to be a novelist in his own right and is totally at home with the creative struggles -- the moments of euphoria and omnipotence and the pangs of anxiety and self-doubt -- that afflict his fictional character. Ethan embodies the right balance between neurotic edge and irresistible boyish charm. It is key that the audience is in sympathy with our hero, even when it dawns on them that he is dangerously deluded.

The elusive, timeless Margit is played by Kristin Scott Thomas -- an actress who can be dark, maternal, tragic, erotic, ambiguous, romantic, urbane. For the role of romantic autodidact Ania, I've chosen the brilliant young Polish actress Joanna Kulig, who generated the right mixture of warmth, spontaneity, and demotic charm.

As was the case in my previous films, the script for THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH was a rather lean and stripped-down text. The idea was to give myself and the actors space to add texture to the characters and scenes during a lengthy process of workshops. The script was there to convey the shape, the feel, and the overall meaning of the piece, but the real "film-writing" for me began in rehearsals, location scouting, prep, and the actual filming.

The film is a strange cultural hybrid: it is set in Paris, drawn from an American novel, played by a multi-national cast, and directed by a Polish filmmaker with a documentary background. The dialogue is spoken in French and English, languages in which I feel equally at home.

My goal was to strike the right tone for the film -- a precarious balancing act between realism, absurdist comedy, and nightmare -- and to stick to it with unswerving confidence.

-- Pawel Pawlikowski

About the Production

When Pawel Pawlikowski first read Douglas Kennedy's novel The Woman in the Fifth, he was "looking for a starting point for a film that has its own internal logic." Though the New York Times bestselling author's romantic thriller wasn't necessarily close to the Polish filmmaker's world, he began to imagine how re-shaping the story of Tom Ricks, an American writer watching his life crumble while visiting the City of Lights, could accommodate his style and voice. "I was working on some original story ideas that were a little too personal, so I thought it would be great to make something that had nothing to do with me, in a way. Then I met Ethan, who happened to be in London, and I told him about the project. He said, 'I'm up for that, let's do it.' I began to re-imagine the whole story in terms of an inner journey, and rewrote the script with that in mind."

Part of what fascinated Pawlikowski about the tale of a down-and-out university lecturer in Paris confronting the failure of his marriage and his writerly ambitions--and seeking to renew the connection with his young daughter--was how easily it accommodated the theme of psychological disintegration, which had interested the accomplished writer-director since his last feature, MY SUMMER OF LOVE. "I wanted Tom Ricks to be a complicated, duplicitous hero, not an everyman who happens to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I wanted the problem to be him, not the world around him. That's a radical change compared to the novel." Pawlikowski's efforts to establish the defining traits of his central character also influenced his stylized approach. "I wanted the film to obey the logic of a dream," he says. "It starts in a realistic way, then the boundaries of reality gradually start to break down."

Ethan Hawke met Pawlikowski in London while performing in a Royal Court stage production of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. He says he was initially drawn to the set-up and tone of THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH after discussing the project with Pawlikowski in New York, but neither he nor the director had any "preconceived notions" about Tom Ricks, who Hawke says, has become "one of my favorite roles." It was only through an ongoing exchange of ideas and workshops that they were able to discover the character's true nature and desires. "For me, this film deals with the torment surrounding one's desire to be the father you always dreamt of being," says Hawke. "That's a subject I'm interested in right now. Everyone has his/her own idea of what it means to be an ideal parent. But you also have to juggle that with the constraints of everyday life." This aspect of the story resonated deeply with Pawlikowski as well, who says, "The conflict between being creative--and therefore having an ego and involving your ego in your work--and being in love with a woman or trying to be a father means wanting incompatible things. A lot of us find ourselves in this kind of dilemma. That's something that really drove me on this project."

For Pawlikowski, it was important that his lead actor be able to win the sympathy of an audience while at the same time communicate something darker and less reassuring. "It's above all Ethan Hawke who makes this ambiguity work so well," he says. "By nature, he's a warm, nice person, with a sort of adolescent candor--that's what everyone likes about Ethan. I play on that and the image we have of him from his films. He has a simplicity that you want to follow, despite the signs which make us not trust him. And he's an extraordinary partner for the other actors: he knows how to bring out the best in them, to put them at their ease. He never tries to hog the limelight."

Although THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH has some of the trappings of a psychological thriller, Pawlikowski was less interested in exploring genre than in trying to depict a writer's increasingly unstable frame of mind without veering into fantasy: "The hero's emotional state is the prism. It's through him that we perceive the world he moves through. I try to remain as naturalistic as possible, so as not to signpost through cinematic devices that something is not quite right. Events follow one another and gradually we move into the realm of the strange." Location was crucial, since the atmosphere needed to reflect Tom's inner turmoil in subtle, but effective ways. Setting the film in France, a country foreign to his American protagonist, accomplished part of this goal, but the real challenge for Pawlikowski was how to defamiliarize such an overused cinematic locale. "In Paris, it's really difficult to find places that don't illustrate a cliche, however hard they try," he says. "Wherever I look here, there are cream colors, and lots of movement. It's a densely populated city, difficult to manage during a shoot and hard to represent onscreen. I spent a lot of time with my set designer Benoit Barouh criss-crossing the city on his scooter to find unusual locations. I wanted Paris without it being 'Paris.' I wanted it to be a bit like Eastern Europe in the 1970s."

In the midst of deciding the look and feel and overall structure of the film, Pawlikowski also needed to cast the role of Margit, the enigmatic translator who becomes Tom's lover and muse. He turned to the renowned European actress Kristin Scott Thomas, whose facility with languages and remarkable ability to project a variety of personas made her an ideal fit. "Margit is a cloud of mystery, without a clear story -- even her nationality is uncertain. For an actor, that's complicated. She's fantastic to work with and courageous. She gave me everything I needed and more. She has great elegance in her working relationships." Hawke concurs, saying, "For me, certain actors embody the very essence of cinema. Kristin Scott Thomas has that quality. She has that strange sensuality, that natural elegance. It's an experience to act with someone like that. With her, everything seems easy. With others, you have to work really hard to get there. Her character is above all symbolic, and a lot of actors aren't up for that."

Working with casting director Stephane Batut, Pawlikowski then looked to fill the role of Ania, the Polish barmaid who casually befriends Tom and shows him unexpected tenderness, providing a counterpoint to the heavy-handed influence of Margit. Pawlikowski thought immediately of Joanna Kulig, a singer and stage actress he had previously auditioned and believed would be a natural, despite her lack of film experience, thanks to the elegance and precision of her body language. "I like the idea that each scene has to have a musical rhythm," he says. "It's not simply a matter of the meaning of the words. It's about tempo, you have to find a certain swing. Joanna has that." Hawke recalls that Pawlikowski's directions to Kulig at one point were simply to "act like a mazurka," marveling that "she understood exactly what he meant."

Given the variety of tonal environments, he sought to create--Sezer's cafe, Margit's mystery-shrouded flat, and the dingy, bulb-lit basement room where Tom surveils the exterior of a warehouse every night--Pawlikowski turned to his longtime collaborator Ryszard Lenczewski to handle lensing on THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH. During the shoot, the two friends discussed everything from color schemes and set lighting to nuances in performance. "He and I have a very strong understanding," says Pawlikowski. "It's rare for things to be that in tune. Usually, between a director and a director of photography, the roles are strictly separated. We work in symbiosis. He knows I'm very visual, and I can count on him to point out what he observed in the acting. He teaches too, at the school in Lodz. He's made a lot of documentaries, so he's got a wealth of experience, and he's never lost his childlike passion for his craft. I work with him in the same way I work with an actor." Hawke observed the close collaboration between Pawlikowski and his director of photography to achieve the melodious flow of each scene and says, "they were like an orchestra." He compares their easygoing dynamic to that of "an old-school rock group, where the words alone aren't the most important thing."

It was clear from the beginning, says Pawlikowski, that because the world of the film is so ambiguous and plaintive, he would need to add a bit of score to convey Tom's tenuous mental condition. He brought in English composer Max de Wardener, with whom he'd previously worked on LAST RESORT, to write a few spare themes. After the sound mix was completed in Paris, Sylvain Morizet came in to help arrange the music. "My main instructions to Max," recalls Pawlikowski, "were to come up with one or two haunting little melodies; I wanted the music to be seductive. MY SUMMER OF LOVE had a similar thing. He came up with two melodies I thought were great, but they were not disturbing, like in a horror movie. They were quite sweet and euphonious, but a little atonal here and there, like AN AMERICAN IN PARIS but a bit off. Producers always want more emotions, but I didn't want them too explained. The goal was always to be on the tightrope--and that's a good image for the whole film."