December 9, 2007 -- “La Sconosciuta” (International title: The Unknown Woman) is the latest film from Guiseppe Tornatore, director of “Cinema Paradiso.” It is a mystery that is delivered in small pieces, flashbacks and hints through the course of the movie. The whole back story of the mysterious main character, Irena (played by Kseniya Rappoport) is not revealed until the end of the film, although it is possible to guess a lot of the back story from the hints that go before.
Irena quietly moves into Velarchi, Italy from the Ukraine and immediately tries to get a job as a maid in a nearby apartment building, although she seems to have plenty of money and doesn't need a low-paying, back-breaking job. She offers the building porter 30 percent of her earnings if he will help her get a job in the building. With his help, she gets a job as a maid and gradually works her way up to a particular apartment she seems to have her sights on. Along the way, another maid who had the job before accidently falls down the stairs (or was she tripped deliberately) making an opeing for Irena as a cook, maid and nanny for the Adacher family. Donato Adacher (Pierfrancesco Favino) and his wife, Valeria Adacher (Claudia Gerini) are jewelers. Valeria has a workshop in the apartment. In addition to cooking and cleaning the apartment, Irena also cares for the Adacher's young daughter, Thea (Clara Dossena).
Irena covertly watches the couple and discovers there is a secret compartment in a closet of the house. She also discovers the combination to the safe where the valuables are kept. She opens the safe and examines the contents, especially the private papers. Valeria is beginning to suspect something, however. She begins watching Irena and is suspicious when Irena is secretive about where she lives. Irena's mysterious past begins to catch up with her as well. A stranger begins to call her on the phone and to follow her. She has flashbacks of a horrible time in her past. She seems to suffer something like post traumatic stress disorder. Everything seems to be closing in on her.
The film cleverly hides Irena's real motivations and her real history until near the end of the film, where all is revealed. Some of Irena's secrets can be readily guessed from the clues, but the whole truth is strange enough that it probably can't be guessed. There is enough interesting stuff going on in the film until the final revelation to make this a journey worth taking. All the moral implications of Irena's actions in the film are explored only vaguely. The implication is that Irena was justified in what she did, except for the possible murder of Gina (Piera Degli Esposti), the former maid of the Adacher family. The story is an interesting and unusual one. This film rates a B.
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