<b>All he wants to do is see his daughter.</b>
He runs away and jumps on a bus. He is exhausted and falls asleep. When he is shaken awake, everything he owns, including his money, has been stolen. At this point the director, Pawel Pawlikowski, takes us to an area of Paris that we never see. It is the dirty, grimy, industrial side of the city and where the immigrants can afford to live. Tom stops in a cafe and finds enough coins in his pocket to buy a cup of coffee. He asks the pretty Polish waitress Ania (Joanna Kulig) if there are any rooms available. She points him to owner. In exchange for his passport, Sezer lets him stay in a dingy, small room upstairs.
Of course, no one does anything for nothing. I wondered at this point exactly what Sezer had in mind for our desperate and lonely protagonist.
Tom is recognized in a bookstore as the author of one slender volume of prose. He is invited to an artist and writer party. He accepts, although reluctantly. We can tell he is uneasy about interacting with people, and soon after arriving, we can almost feel his agitation. (I’ve felt this way many times myself at social events, so he had my sympathy.) To relax and to get away from the press of people who are trying so hard to be interesting, he escapes to the balcony of the apartment, and there he meets Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas). He’d caught glimpses of her as he walked around the party. There is an immediate electric attraction between them. Her repartee with him on the balcony only adds to her allure. She is elegant, intelligent, and mysterious. She gives him her phone number knowing he won’t ask for it.
Tom’s efforts, if you call them that, to find a job are fruitless. Sezer offers him an unusual job as a gatekeeper in a faceless, ugly building. He is locked in a room. His only job is to buzz people in and only if they give him the proper code. We never do find out what exactly is going on in that building, but from the sounds that we are allowed to hear, we can guess that whatever they are doing it is probably not exactly legal. With the long hours of no responsibilities, it is the perfect setup for Tom to get back to writing another novel.
He is a maelstrom of emotion, obsessing about his daughter and worrying that he has probably lost her forever. He spends the time writing a long rambling illustrated letter to her.
His loneliness weighs heavily on him. He finally gives in and calls Margit. She invites him to her apartment on the 5th Arrondissement. She treats him with kindness, has sex with him, talks with him about his problems, and takes an interest in his life...maybe too much of an interest.
She becomes an addiction for him. When he can’t see her, he is agitated and lost.
Meanwhile, the lovely Ania has found a copy of his book. She has read it and loved it. She is a male (some female too) writer’s fantasy! She reads pieces of his book to him. He reads pieces to her. You can probably guess where this is going. The problem, of course, is that she is the girlfriend of Sezer. If he finds out that Tom has been intimate with Ania, ...well...my speculations about what would happen are fairly graphic.
There is a scene that I thought was done so well during one of the times that Tom goes to see Margit. She stops him just inside the door, and she starts giving him a handjob. He tries to kiss her, but she dodges away. He can’t touch her. All he can do is gaze into her enigmatic, gorgeous eyes (this is Kristin Scott Thomas after all) and enjoy the moment. It illustrates so well her complete control over him.
I caught just a short segment of this movie over lunch one day and decided that I had to see the rest. I’m a big fan of Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, so what a bonus for me to see them interact in a movie together. The movie hinges on the ability of Hawke to convey the desperation and loneliness of his character. He completely convinces me.
I read the book by WIlliam Kennedy before watching the movie, and this is one of those few times where the book and movie are both really good. There are slight deviations from the plot, but not enough to bother those purists who like to see books they’ve enjoyed brought to the screen fully realized. The plot has a wonderful twist. The subplots are all explained. Everything flows together towards a satisfying, perfect conclusion.