Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Film Review: The Unknown Woman

I knew nothing about this film, other than it had picked up a load of Donatello awards (Italy's Oscars), as well as being the Italian nominee at the Oscars for best foreign language film in 2007. In a nutshell, the film is about an ex-prostitute (Irena) trying to insinuate herself into the life of an affluent family. She believes that the family's young daughter is actually her daughter. Irena is originally from the Ukraine and came to Italy to work as a prostitute. She fell under the control of a brutal pimp who arranged for the several babies she had to be sold to childless couples. Now, after running away from her pimp, Irena becomes the family's cook, cleaner and nanny, and tries to gain the love of their daughter.

Early on the film looks and feels like a Hitchcockian thriller, thanks to some nice cinematography and Ennio Morricone's score. Eventually, however, it becomes clear that this film is also about the way Italian society relies on thousands of "unknown" women from impoverished countries to act as cleaners, caregivers, sex workers, and even as surrogate mothers. On that level it's subtle and effective, especially thanks to its bittersweet ending.

The thriller aspect of the plot works fairly well, although there a few holes, and one improbably quick recovery from a grievous wound. Kseniya Rappoport as Irena is superb and gives the the film a lot of its power. Well worth seeing.

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