The Unknown Woman



Opened: Friday, May 30, in New York (Outsider Pictures/Medusa Film).

Fans of such Guiseppe Tornatore films as "Cinema Paradiso" and "Malena" are apt to be left chagrined by this latest effort, a stylish but ludicrous thriller in the Hitchcock vein. The winner of five Italian David de Donatello Awards, including deserved ones for its cinematography and musical score by the great Ennio Morricone, "The Unknown Woman" is ultimately too sleazy to garner much art house interest on these shores.

Tornatore's twisty, flashback-laden script centers on Irena (Xenia Rappoport), a beautiful Ukrainian who has relocated to a Northern Italian City. Haunted by memories of her past as a prostitute who was abused by her brutal pimp (Michele Placido) and forced to deliver a series of babies destined for the black market, she is now a woman on a mission.

That mission, only gradually revealed, revolves around an upscale married couple (Pierfrancesco Favino, Claudia Gerini) and their 4-year-old daughter, Thea (Clara Dossena). Managing to insert herself into their household as a domestic servant through means like pushing their current maid (Piera Degli Esposti) down the stairs with near-fatal results, Irena takes a powerful interest in the little girl, who possesses a near-pathological inability to stand up to the bullies tormenting her at school.

Absorbing in its subtler, more mysterious first half, the film becomes increasingly absurd the more its plot machinations get revealed. The director does, however, demonstrate a real ability to create quietly suspenseful sequences, the best of which involves Irena's desperate efforts to make a copy of a vital key without making its owner aware of the subterfuge.

The film's narrative deficiencies are partially offset by such factors as Rappoport's consistently riveting performance, the spookily atmospheric visuals and a score by Morricone that not so subtly resembles the sort of great work done by Bernard Herrmann.

Cast: Xenia Rappoport, Michele Placido, Claudia Gerini, Pierfrancesco Favino, Clara Dossena, Margheria Buy, Piera Degli Espositi, Allesandro Haber. Director-Screenwriter: Giuseppe Tornatore. Producer: Laura Fattori. No MPAA rating, 118 minutes. Director of Photography: Fabio Zamarion. Production Designer: Tonino Zera. Music: Ennio Morricone. Costume Designer: Nicoletta Ercole. Editor: Massimo Quaglia.

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