Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas star in Pawel Pawlikoswki’s supernatural thriller Woman In the Fifth, currently shooting in Paris.
Woman In the Fifth marks the return to film-making for Polish born, UK-based director Pawel Pawlikowski, whose last feature was the critically acclaimed 2004 drama My Summer Of Love.
The film’s life began when Paris based production company Haut Et Court bought the rights to Douglas Kennedy’s supernatural thriller novel, about an American writer who becomes embroiled with a mysterious widow when he moves to Paris following the break up of his marriage.
“We approached Pawel to direct the movie [in September 2008], because we were huge fans of his previous films Last Resort and My Summer Of Love, and wanted to work with him since then. We thought this could be the right project for him,” explains Carole Scotta, who is producing the film along with Haut Et Court colleague Caroline Banjo.
Initially, the art-house director wasn’t sure whether the plot-heavy thriller was right for him. “But I read it and it had elements that made me think maybe there was an interesting film here. I started to develop it into something less plot driven and more character driven, Basically, it’s a story about a man torn between the need for family and stability and the need to be creative,” says Pawlikowski, who includes Terrence Malick and Martin Scorsese amongst his film-making heroes.
Things started to fall into place when Pawlikowski met Ethan Hawke in London at the beginning of 2009, when the Hollywood actor was starring in a production at the Old Vic Theatre. “I thought he would be great to play a conflicted, charming but intense, troubled character. He is one of the few actors of that age group that I really relate to and would love to see on screen,” the director explains.
Luckily, Hawke happened to be a fan of Pawlikoswkis’s work and signed up for the film, with Kristin Scott Thomas, who the director knew socially, coming on board shortly after to play the enigmatic “woman in the fifth”.
“Suddenly I had the critical mass to do it, so I could to get the story into some kind of shape I liked,” says Pawlikowski, who co-wrote the script with Kennedy.
One major departure from the novel was the introduction of a new character — a waitress at the hotel where Hawke’s character is staying — who Pawlikowski created specifically for Polish actresss Joanna Kulig. “She provides a great counter balance to Kristen’s dark erotic character — a ray of hopefulness and life and the possibility of real love.” The supporting cast also includes French actors Samir Guesmi and Delphine Chuillot.
With the script ready by December 2009, the producers had a race on their hands to secure the financing before the scheduled spring shoot. “We had to to shoot in April and May because of Ethan and Kristen’s busy schedules, so we only had a couple of months to finance the movie, which we did. There was a lot of excitement behind it and the momentum was right,” says Scotta.
The financing for the $7.3m (Euros 5.5m) film came together from the UK’s Film Four, together with France’s Canal+ and Orange. The film was also picked up funding from Poland’s SPI International, who has come on board as a co-producer and distributor, as a result of its Polish director and Polish DoP, Ryszard Lenczewski. The film also accessed the French tax credit thanks to the majority French crew and the fact that the film is shooting entirely on location in Paris.
One financier that didn’t come on board was the Paris funding body Region Ile De France, despite its previous support for Haut Et Court’s 2008 Film The Class. “It is a pity because the film is showing Paris in a quite outstanding way and is already selling very well internationally,” says Scotta.
Still, Pawlikowski is clearly enjoying his first shoot in the French capital. “I spent a lot of time riding around on a scooter with the production designer looking for locations, which was great. There is a real openness and good will amongst the crew,” he says.
Whilst the film is set in the present day, one challenge, says the director, has been trying to capture Paris in the right light, metaphorically. “We are trying to make it feel more universal and timeless; a stylised, heightened vision of Paris, which still has life on the screen. It’s a difficult balance.”
With its combination of English, French and Polish dialogue, Scotta thinks the film will have a broad appeal. “Because of the subject matter and the actors, it will appeal to a French audience, but international audiences will be drawn naturally to it because of Pawel’s follow-up and long-awaited return and Kristin and Ethan’s names.”
Artificial Eye has already come on board as UK distributor, whilst Haut Et Court will release the film in France through its distribution arm.
Meanewhile Memento International has already secured a number of pre-sales in Berlin, including to AB Svensk in Scandinavia, Swen in Latin America and Nutopia in Greece. “We wanted to hold off on some of the bigger territories,” adds Scotta.
Shooting wraps on June 4, when post production will get under way at the Mikros lab in Paris. The aim is to take the film to Cannes in 2011.
Meanwhile Pawlikowski has three more projects in the pipeline. “I love them all equally, so it’s a question of how we can finance them. But after a period of absence, it seems like things are coming together,” he says.