Remember Giuseppe Tornatore, who made the overrated but harmlessly cute Cinema Paradiso, about the grumpy projectionist who made him the fabulous filmmaker he is today? Meet the filmmaker that he is today: sado-masochistic fantasist, exploiter of women, and cheesy Hitchcock imitator. It doesn’t help that The Unknown Woman, which traffics (I use the term in its precise sense) in hot-button topics like forced prostitution and baby-making for profit, comes sanctimoniously wrapped in a twisted tale of feminist revenge. Or that the lead actress, Russian film and television star Xenia Rappoport, is terrific as a Ukrainian ex-hooker who insinuates herself into an Italian family and gradually reveals herself as the housekeeper from hell. Pretentiously framed as a woo-woo thriller complete with aerial shots of desperate deeds on spiral staircases and the requisite surreal circus scene, The Unknown Woman is liberally sprinkled with soft-core bondage sequences and dappled with sun-lit flashbacks to happier-hooker days. Extravagantly vulgar psychology about evil rebounding to haunt both victim and oppressor offers still more opportunities for scenes of torture, this time with a defenseless little girl in the victim seat. Tornatore has the unspeakable nerve to present this as character building, which leaves us to wonder not only what the parents of child actress Clara Dossena were thinking, but how this repellent piece of garbage managed to win no less than five Italian Oscars.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 27, 2008