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REVIEW – The Woman in the Fifth (2011)

July 18, 2012

VideoVista have my review of Pawel Pawlikovski’s The Woman in the Fifth. Based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy, the film is a meditation on the costs and benefits of artistic creativity. Grounded firmly in the old trope of a sensitive and broken man who is only saved by the love of a good woman, the film presents its central character with a choice between a woman who makes him creative but also insane and a woman who makes him happy but only at the expense of his capacity to write.

I have two main problems with this film. The first is that the vision of creativity the film proposes is based entirely upon an almost ludicrously self-indulgent and melodramatic vision of the creative process. Many gifted artists produce great work without lapsing into either madness, violence or depression. Frankly, seeing these psychological problems as an inevitable by-product of the creative process is nothing more than palliative bullshit put about by people who really need to start taking responsibility for their own mental health. Being an artist does not make it okay for you to be a complete prick.  The second problem is that while Pawlikovski’s direction is entirely watchable, it is also desperately boring. Seriously… what is going on in art house filmmaking? when did it all become so fucking boring?

We are currently undergoing the greatest economic and social crisis since the Great Depression and the political decisions made today will shape the future of entire continents for generations to come. Given that the world is now continuously shifting beneath our feet and that our democratic institutions are positively crying out for an intelligent electorate that can understand and engage with the issues confronting them, do we really need another film about a novelist who is struggling with writer’s block? Do we really need another French film in which a bunch of listless Parisians tumble in and out of bed with one another? Do we really need another film in which a terminally passive and unattractive male protagonist somehow finds himself at the centre of a vortex of redemptive totty? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding ‘No!’

As I said in my piece about this year’s Cannes film festival, European art house cinema is rapidly becoming stale. A decaying boy’s club dominated by a shrinking clade of middle-aged white guys, both its ideas and its language are in desperate need of renewal and The Woman in the Fifth is yet further proof of the scene’s increasing creative sterility. Did we need another film about a novelist with writer’s block? FUCK NO! Nor do we need another polite little film directed by a middle-aged European white guy. Pawel Pawlikovski is not a bad director by any stretch of the imagination but he is a director who is part of the problem. Pawlikovski’s early works including Dostoevsky’s Travels and Tripping with Zhirinovsky were deeply personal reflections of a youth lived under Communist rule. However, as Pawlikovski freely admits in the Blu-ray’s extras, he has decided to set aside the things that made him unique as a director in order to churn out the same old derivative francophilic shit as every other art house director. Clearly… this shit needs to stop.

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