The Unknown Woman

2006, Movie, NR, 118 mins


Fans of Giuseppe Tornatore's heartwarming CINEMA PARADISO (1988), may be taken aback by this thriller about sex trafficking, black-market babies, murder and vengeance.

Ukrainian prostitute Irina Yaroshenko (Xenia Rappoport) has escaped her sadistic pimp, Mold (Michele Placido), and relocated to Trieste, where she begins looking for the kind of menial work available to foreigners. But there's something odd about her job search: She doesn't seem to need to work. She wants to work in the luxury apartment building across the street from the rundown but desirably located apartment she's renting. She worms her way into the good graces of concierge Matteo (Alessandro Haber), promising him a hefty cut of her salary if he'll help, and having secured a part-time job as a cleaning woman sets her sites on Adacher family, starting with their maid/nanny, Gina (Piera Degli Esposti). She befriends and viciously betrays Gina and gets herself hired into the deeply troubled household: Valeria (Claudia Gerini) and Donato (Pierfrancesco Favino) are on the outs and appear to be staying together for the sake of their jewelry business and their pampered five-year-old Thea (Clara Dossena), who has some vague disorder that prevents her from protecting herself against injury. Constant flashbacks to Irina's life of sexual enslavement quickly make it clear that she believes Thea is the last of many children she bore as part of a babies-for-sale racket, but there are more mysteries to Irina's past, some of which emerge from the shadows to threaten the glimmer of happiness finding her daughter brings.

Much of the film has a heavily Hitchcockian gloss – including the portions of Ennio Morricone's score that echo Bernard Hermann's theme for PSYCHO (1960) – while the flashbacks recall the kind of lurid Eurotrash thrillers that once played American grind houses. It's an uneasy mix, and not an entirely successful one. But the film is flat-out gorgeous and contains moments of sheer lunacy – Irina being brutally attacked by a pair of sidewalk Santas – and a bizarre subplot in which Irina teaches Thea to defend herself by tying her up and knocking her around the Adracher's super-swank apartment that make for riveting, if creepy, viewing. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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