The Unknown Woman in Spanish with English subtitles begins with what appears to be auditions for stage work by very attractive women posing with little or no clothing. It imparts a sensual sexy image which is far from the true direction of this dramatic heart rendering story of a woman who is forced to endure ugly and humiliating situations which haunt her forever.
Irena (Xenia Rappoport) has fled Eastern Europe and moved to Northern Italy where she seeks a specific job in a building complex where one particular family appears to be her target or rather goal to work for. She cleans hallways and stairs until noticed by Valeria (Claudia Gerin) and Donato (Pierffancesco Favino) who have a young daughter Tea (Clara Dossena).
We learn slowly through flashbacks why this family is so vital to Irena and what terror and brutality she endured in Eastern Europe. Each revelation brings us to a better understanding of her motivations and determination to be close to the Adacher family who are in the goldsmith business.
But even in the non-linear story telling director Giuseppe Tormatore only provides glimpses of her past life and the possible connections to the present. His hints are also at times misleading and when we see her forced to have bondage sex as do other women in her past situation we can easily make assumptions about her keeper which may not be true. In reality his motivations are far more cynical than we observe on the surface.
The climax reveals the dark secret and the error in judgment Irena has made about the Adacher family and little Tea. Tea on the other hand becomes a child to Irena, they are close and cover for each others missteps and Irena insists in teaching Tea to fight for herself both at school and at home. But the challenge at home leads to difficulty and Irena eventually strikes out and faces the consequences of her action.
This dark and sometimes difficult to watch film, none-the-less holds us in its grip, as we hope for some light to fill Irena's life and we are rewarded only in a small but important manner by a little girl's smile.
|The Unknown Woman||B+||B+|