Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Movie Review—The Unknown Woman (La sconosciuta)




Don’t let the plot of The Unknown Woman fool you into thinking it’s an Italian The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, because it’s not. Yes, a woman worms her way into a nanny job for the wealthy Adacher family through some devious means, but she has a good reason, and that reason is slowly revealed as Irena's past as a blonde hooker and her present as a mousy brunette converge.

In the Ukraine Irena worked as a prostitute for a sadistic pimp nicknamed Mold (he’s buried many bodies in his career, get it?), but she escaped with her life and something else equally important to her. In a small Italian town she rents an apartment across from the building where the Adacher’s live, and begins to gain access first to their building, then their apartment, and finally their lives.

As with any trauma victim, innocuous daily events can trigger painful memories. Images of Irena's past as a sex slave flash across the screen: masked and naked at an auction, hogtied and beaten, and eventually handed a duty that mixes kinky clients with one of Mold's new business ventures.

When Mold makes contact with Irena by cell phone and with his fists, her position with the Adachers is jeopardized. But now she's willing to finish something she started when she answered to the name of Georgia, because this time she has something worth dying—and living—for.

It's funny how some movies can have me rooting for unsavory characters (I always root for gangsters in gangster movies), and I was rooting for Irena all the way. Irena is not an evil woman, but she does some evil things to get what she wants. She is a survivor, and she wants the same thing for Thea when she discovers Thea is being bullied at school. There are some scenes where Irena uses some questionable methods bordering on child abuse to toughen up the fragile girl, but when the puzzle pieces of Irena's unfortunate life are locked together, I get it.

Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) directed The Unknown Woman, a movie whose theme is violence against women. About Irena he says: "[She] is a woman who was subjected to violence, who was denied her femininity as a woman, who was also denied her maternity, who at a certain point in her life decides to take her maternity, her femininity back, and is ready to do whatever it is required, even to use the same language which she had been subjected to—the language of violence."

The Unknown Woman won seven awards and was nominated for four.

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