THE UNKNOWN WOMAN
Escape from Brutality and Cruelty
Release Date: May 30, 2008
Starring: Xenia Rappoport, Michele
Placido, Claudia Gerini, Clara
Dossena, Pierfrancesco Favino,
Alessandro Haber, and Piera
Runtime: 118 minutes
Distributor: Outsider Pictures
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Executive Producer: Laura Fattori
Writer: Giuseppe Tornatore
Address Comments To:Peter Peterson and Paul Hudson, Founders
543 North Highland Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (323) 965-7869
The movie stars Russian actress Xenia Rappoport as Irena, a young Ukrainian immigrant in an Italian city fixated on getting a job in an apartment building. Irena spies on an Italian couple, Valerie and Donato Adacher, and their young daughter, Thea. She becomes friends with the family’s long-term maid and nanny, Gina, to the point of stealing and copying Gina’s keys so that she can search for something in the family’s apartment.
Irena clearly wants to work for the Italian couple, but she finds out that Gina is likely to be employed with them for a long time. So, Irena deliberately trips Gina, who falls down the spiral staircase in the apartment building’s hallway. A pool of blood spreads from Gina’s head, and only later do viewers discover that a paralyzed Gina survived the fall.
Irena successfully gets hired by Valerie and begins a tentative, but ultimately strong, friendship with the young Thea, who resembles Irena but doesn’t resemble Valerie. A series of shocking flashbacks reveals that Irena was a sex slave serving a brutal Ukrainian pimp, but escaped after apparently killing the evil man. Irena thinks Thea is her real daughter and learns that Thea was indeed adopted from Ukraine. The pimp is still alive, however. He and his goons finally come looking for Irena, who stole his hidden stash of money. This results in several tragic outcomes, some unexpected twists and a bittersweet ending.
THE UNKNOWN WOMAN has the feel of a Hitchcock thriller, aided by the lyrical music of Ennio Morricone, who at times even seems to be imitating the music of Bernard Herrmann, Hitchcock’s famous composer for such iconic movies as VERTIGO, PSYCHO and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. The Irena character also may remind some knowledgeable moviegoers of the woman in Francois Truffaut’s homage to Hitchcock, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, also composed by Herrmann.
The sequences in Italy are the most provocative and the most powerful. They tell an emotional story about one woman’s attempt to escape brutality and cruelty. Xenia Rappoport gives a wonderful performance in those sequences. They are accompanied, however, by brutal, sadomasochistic flashbacks to the abuse Irena suffers in the slave trade. Included in those scenes, many of which are composed of extremely short shots that suggest rather than show what’s happening, are many shots of explicit nudity, including full female nudity.
This abuse of the viewer’s eyes and soul takes away from the power of the rest of the movie. It also guts the movie’s more morally uplifting positive aspects. The movie also contains disturbing scenes where Irena tries to toughen up the young girl, who has become the victim of some school bullies. These scenes and other scenes imply that some of the brutality from which Irena is escaping has rubbed off on her.
THE UNKNOWN WOMAN has the feel of a Hitchcock thriller, aided by the lyrical, evocative music of Ennio Morricone. The sequences in Italy are the most provocative and the most touching. They are accompanied, however, by brutal, explicit sadomasochistic flashbacks to the abuse Irena suffers in the slave trade. The frank flashbacks are disturbing. They take away from the power of the rest of the movie, as well as the viewer’s enjoyment. They also gut the movie’s more uplifting aspects.