2006 // Italy - France // Giuseppe Tornatore // November 14, 2008 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
Lurid and relentless, The Unknown Woman is a thriller that would catch the attention of Hitchcock, Argento, and De Palma—although they would no doubt find much to pick at in the roteness of its third act, as well as its refusal to conclude with dignity. Oh, but there's bloody pleasure to be had in the first forty-five minutes, as director Giuseppe Tornatore weaves a mystery spattered with sex, savagery, and sinister intentions. Kseniya Rappoport, all hangdog eyes and chilly Slavic ferocity, holds the film together as Ukranian anti-heroine Irena, who engages in an elaborate scheme to ingratiate herself into the household of a wealthy Italian jeweler (Claudia Gerini), with clear designs on the family's young daughter. Stacatto bursts of flashback intrude into Irena's conspiracy, heightening the menace by revealing the lost happiness and nightmarish abuse of her past. This is a woman who has nothing to lose, but what she wants—revenge? money? family?—flutters tantalizingly in our peripheral vision. There are some twists that strain credulity, but Tornatore generally keeps things humming along until a conclusion that he doesn't know how to cut short. The black sizzle is by then gone, aside from a bitter, devastating answer to a lingering question. Still, what a ride!