One-time novelist Tom (Hawke) travels from America to Paris to reconnect with his ex-wife (Chuillot) and his 6-year-old daughter (Papillon), but is immediately confronted with a restraining order. He's also robbed of his luggage and left in a cafe on the edge of town, where the waitress (Kulig) and owner (Guesmi) offer him a room and a job as a night watchman. Then he meets the alluring Margit (Scott Thomas) at a literary party, and she begins to take his mind off his troubles.
Filmmaker Pawlikowski almost subliminally shifts this film from an open-hearted drama into a kind of low-key thriller as Tom begins to descend into something that might be madness or possibly something supernatural. It doesn't really matter what's really happening here, because we're seeing everything from Tom's rather unreliable perspective. And every element of the film conspires cleverly to put us in his shoes.
Hawke gives the role the full force of his boyish charm. We can't help but like him even though we know there are dark shadows inside him. His awkward encounters with another tenant (Minte) at the cafe are genuinely terrifying, while his clandestine observation of his daughter's activities starts to become rather unsettling the more we realise that Tom might not be as trustworthy as we thought. Meanwhile, Scott Thomas gives a gleefully slinky performance as the seductress who might be luring Tom into something rather grim.
Pawlikowski assembles this in short, sharp scenes that abruptly cut into each other even as they're constantly interrupted by unnerving noises. Tom's work as a night watchman is frightening because he doesn't have a clue who he's working for. And his encounters with both the waitress and Margit bristle with underlying tension. So as it continues, we begin to understand that this story could go almost anywhere, and also that the filmmakers will probably leave the real dot-connecting to our imaginations. But when they've provoked us as much as Pawlikowski does, that's not a bad thing at all.
Run time: 85 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 16th November 2011
Box Office USA: $0.1M
Distributed by: ATO Pictures
Production compaines: Haut et Court, Film4, UK Film Council, SPI International, The Bureau, Canal+, Orange Cinéma Séries, Artificial Eye, Memento Films International, Coficup, Backup Films, Soficinéma 6, Polish Film Institute
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 20
IMDB: 5.1 / 10
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Screenwriter: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas as Margit, Samir Guesmi as Sezer, Ethan Hawke as Tom Ricks, Joanna Kulig as Ania, Delphine Chuillot as Nathalie, Julie Papillon as Chloé, Geoffrey Carey as Laurent, Mamadou Minte as Omar, Mohamed Aroussi as Moussa, Jean-Louis Cassarino as Dumont, Judith Burnett as Lorraine Lherbert, Marcela Iacub as Isabella, Wilfred Benaïche as Lieutenand Coutard
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