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A Ukrainian woman named Irena calculatedly insinuates herself into the lives of a young, affluent Italian family. Stopping at nothing to become the couple's trusted maid and the beloved nanny to their fragile young daughter, Irena risks everything in her quest to uncover the truth about the family. Like an intricately constructed jigsaw puzzle, The Unknown Woman reveals piece by piece the enigma of Irena's past. Written by
The film received a small release in Los Angeles in late 2007 in order to qualify for the 80th Annual Academy Awards (it was eligible in all categories, including Best Foreign Language Film). However it didn't get a wide US release until the following year. See more »
Film making in its best for the viewers who are willing to be scarred by a story
I need to clarify one thing before I begin this review. I am a man. I enjoy watching muscle cars hurdle through a race track, I could watch Die hard 2 any day of the week and I never had the urge to watch Desperate housewives/Sex and the city or anything else that might give me an insight to the opposite gender (assuming those shows do that). I am not writing this as an apology on behalf of my gender but because the female psyche is a realm that I have yet to fathom and this film not only exposes the abyss of the women's trade atrocities but also to the uncharted territory of one woman's quest for happiness.
That particular woman is Irena (Xenia Rappoport- her performance is beyond describable), Irena is an Italian speaking, Russian-descent woman in her 30's that starts to work as a maid in an affluent house of well to do parents and their little girl. At first, her "curiosity" for her employers' belongings (and since they are in the Diamond business, belongings they have in abundance) leaves the viewer to assume that Irena is a skilled thief that believes in the broader definition of the term "Cleaning". Clearly, the truth is much more complicated.
It is also clear that the past of Irena is riddled with humiliation, violence and degradation committed on her by, well, the lesser people of my specimen but most of all she is haunted not only by what she had to endure but by what she had and lost and more importantly, what she never got the chance to have. I am deliberately enigmatic because the film is too. The peeling of Irena's past is is gradual and seemingly sporadic and her past is gut wrenching and scarring.
While the viewers are getting clearer glimpses of that past, Irena, knowing that the skeletons in her closet are vivid and always present, forms a bond with her employers' daughter, a young and fragile kid that Irena seems determined, far too determined to a stranger's eye, to instill the street-toughness that Irena had to acquire in ways that are anything but pleasant.
The fictitious story of Irena (which is all too real to too many women) could have been a display of sensationalist voyeurism, a self righteous lecture of the trivial and obvious (and let's face it, I didn't need to see the film to find the notion of women trading despicable) or a mere excuse to show a morbid film under a politically correct subject.
This film doesn't have a shred of the above characteristics. The director enhances the horror atmosphere by the chilling musical score, the absolutely flawless acting and script and primarily, by exposing a woman's quest for happiness amidst the live that leaves very little chance of attaining it.
I am usually highly reluctant to discover major plot advancement in movies (even movies I don't recommend to watch) but this film excavates the problem because the deciphering the enigmatic story of Irena is so engrossing and the most valuable asset of the film that disclosing even the smallest of details might weaken the movie's effect. This movie is worth seeing with a companion so you can discuss its qualities and ponder of the true nature of the movie's end (and I used the word "Enigmatic" in this review far too many times already).
There are a couple of matters that I do prefer to clarify:
The movie is the reason why people make movies and why people like yours truly enjoy movies so much. Not only there aren't any noticeable flaws in the film, there are also no redundant scenes, tedious dialog lines that could be discarded or disturbing views that can be eliminated without heavily impairing the overall impression of the film.
The disturbing views are usually implied and the ones that are clear appear for a fraction of a second but leaves a far longer impression. Those of you who envision this film as a myriad of scenes of red wine and Lake Maggiore passing through the window of a fiat 500 are in for a major disappointment.
The rest, though, will experience the true effect of a flawless film that leaves an impression that exceeds the limitations of my penmanship.
10 out of 10 in My FilmOmeter
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