Ethan Hawke wanders the streets of Paris looking like someone who has swallowed something big he cannot easily digest. He is an American writer who has seen better days and who is in Paris to reconnect – after a stint in a mental institution – with his little daughter.
But really who is this guy? Judging from the look of his estranged wife he must be someone dangerous, someone with a violent path and an even more troubled present. So who is this guy? That’s what Hawke’s writer (a promising one we learn early on) keeps asking himself and from the look on his face, he is never entirely sure of the answer himself. Is the lady in the party a fragment of his imagination or Kristin Scott Thomas playing yet another sophisticated Parisian with a penchant for seduction? Is it a psychological thriller with a good dose of melodrama or a hazy vanity project with a message only clear to the artists involved? Is the Eiffel tower real or a phallic symbol from the subconscious? These are the questions (save the last one) our hero and we the viewers must answer but our director, Pawel Pawlikoski (director of the exquisite My Summer of Love) is reluctant to give even when bodies start to pile up – the one with a toilet brush in his mouth is quite an inventive corpse . Instead of answers Pawlikowski gives us some poetic images of insects and trees (no insects were harmed during production!) and a Polish-language reading of the hero’s prose – an apparent nod to his homeland. What we have here is a Polish-born, British-based director working with a French-based British-born actress (Scott Thomas) and an American star (Hawke) in Paris. Now is that Euro-pudding or Euro-pudding? Or shall we say an elegant soufflé?
Well, in Pawlikowski’s case it’s both. Writers wandering in and around Paris tend to look like mysterious creatures (but rarely creatures resembling Ethan Hawke) and yes, you have the first cliché of the film… Be warned, many more will follow! But in Pawlikowsky soufflé of a film these clichés (did we mention a beautiful Polish girl working as a waitress at the seedy bar where our hero takes up residence?) are handled with great care and sophistication even if our director is clearly out of his element when it comes to Paris, ghosts and big name Americans. It’s all well made and polished but in the end almost as frustrating as our hero’s quest to find his daughter and some piece of mind.