We are all, in a statement that’s as meagerly abstruse as it is edifying, creatures of limitation: slaves to genetic circumstance and cultural bent, the uniquely faulty products of lineage, timing, nature, and chance. And yet, we tend to romanticize such concessions, oftentimes spinning our origin stories as would any notable fabulist, tethering our most identifiable traits to cutesy, anecdotal quirks whilst ignoring the broader, and frankly unflattering, circumscriptions we also bear.
There is no denying that Roman Polanski is a polarizing figure. Contesting his polarizing persona is like arguing that humans don’t need air. Though there is no denying that Polanski’s actions and indiscretions have provoked cries of contempt and hatred, it is important that we make a distinction between “Polanski the man” and “Polanski that artist.” “Polanski the artist” is composed of his oeuvre, beginning with his feature debut, Knife in the Water (1962) and leading to his more recent release, Carnage (2011). “Polanski the artist” is a brilliant man who achieved success with the Apartment trilogy (1965’s Repulsion, 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, and 1976’s The Tenant), as well as with his masterworks Chinatown (1974) and The Pianist (2002). “Polanski the artist’s” career displays a penchant for existentialism and absurdity, so it is a wonder why Polanski has not received universal acclaim for Carnage, which not only epitomizes his signature style, but also manages to find humor amidst the bleak and depressing subject matter.
Roman Polanski’s Two Men and a Wardrobe witnesses the emergence of two young men from the depths of the sea, carrying with them a wardrobe that acts as an albatross of unspoken ideological dissonance from the status quo. The nature of their burden is of little consequence, as young men and women have been carrying their own wardrobes and weighty furniture of newly forged convictions since the beginning of time. The two mysterious men emerge from the sea like borrowed political ideologies washed ashore from distant lands, unprepared for the natural trepidation and violent outbursts from the uninitiated and close-minded. The innocence these unidentified men possess is incorruptible, and they earnestly haul their new toy through the apathetic cobblestone streets of polite society. They are the only ones capable of seeing the value of their impeding and seemingly useless artifact. Due to youthful naïveté, it never occurred to the two that this burden can simply be left at home and that others may be disinterested in this millstone of ideological obligation.
No stranger to impromptu Parisian romances, Ethan Hawke again finds himself unexpectedly enthralled by the allure of a stranger in The Woman in the Fifth, writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski’s belated return to filmmaking. That his character here is also a novelist is where the similarities to Richard Linklater’s Before diptych end, Pawlikowski’s film less realist romance than a psychological mystery story. Hawke is college professor turned writer Tom Ricks, come to Paris in order to visit his ex-wife and daughter. Turned away by them and robbed of his few possessions, he takes a shadowy security job to fund his dingy lodgings, by day meeting with a strange woman whom he encounters at a literary discussion party.
Hurtling down a country road alongside a speeding train packed with jeering young men, the driver of a battered sports car accelerates to pull ahead in this impromptu race. Ignoring the protests of his passenger and the panicked honking of the train driver, he takes a sharp turn and drives over the track, nearly being crushed in the process. It is with this dangerous display of faux-bravado that we are introduced to Fred and his brother, the passenger, Jerzy. Together they own a local internet company inherited from their stroke-inflicted father, but their opinions on its future are directly opposed. When Jerzy jumps to the defence of a harassed woman during a train ride to a business meeting, Fred fails to aid him when he is beaten by the gang of youths responsible and callously thrown out of the moving carriage. Courage follows the aftermath of the violent incident and the effect it has on Fred, his relationship with his family, and his burning sense of responsibility.