(director/writer: Guiseppe Tornatore; screenwriter: Massimo De Rita; cinematographer: Fabio Zamarion; editor: Massimo Quaglia; music: Ennio Morricone; cast: Xenia Rappoport (Irena), Michele Placido (Muffa), Claudia Gerini (Valeria Adacher), Margherita Buy (Irena’s lawyer), Pierfrancesco Favino (Donato Adacher), Piera Degli Esposti (Gina), Clara Dossena (Thea Adacher), Alessandro Haber (Porter), √Āngela Molina (Lucrezia), Pino Calabrese (Magistrate), Nicola Di Pinto (Irena’s lover); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Laura Fattori; Outsider Pictures; 2006-Italy/France-in Italian with English subtitles)

“Classy but hardly enjoyable Giallo thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Guiseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”/”Malena”) helms this classy but hardly enjoyable Giallo thriller in a Hitchcockian style; it’s co-written by Tornatore and Massimo De Rita. It’s stylishly filmed and comes with an eerie score by Ennio Morricone. The movie tells a tragic story that unfolds in layers; it’s a tabloid story about the exploitation of eastern European women in Italy, and in this case follows the tale of a Russian girl who escapes after 12 years of being forced into prostitution in Italy and providing 9 babies for a black market baby scam.

Irena (Xenia Rappoport, Russian stage actress) is a beleaguered Ukrainian woman searching for a job in Trieste. After making a crooked deal with the elderly porter (Alessandro Haber) of a luxury building, whereby she gives him 30% of her salary, she lands a job as the cleaning woman in that building. The mysterious Irena then befriends Gina (Piera Degli Esposti), the maid/nanny of a wealthy goldsmith couple, Valeria (Claudia Gerini) and Donato Adacher (Pierfrancesco Favino), who live in the building. The frantic Irena stops at nothing to take the job away from Gina (trips her down a spiral staircase so she ends up in a wheelchair) so she can be the nanny to the couple’s young daughter Thea (Clara Dossena).

It’s no accident that Irena chose to work for the Adachers and why she treats their adopted child Thea, a child who doesn’t know how to fall and gets hurt all the time, with the love only a mother can give. Irena has constant violent flashbacks of her torturous prostitution days in a sex club, where she worked for this vicious Russian white slaver pimp who kidnapped her, Muffa (Michele Placido). The pimp rapes the girls and hangs them up on hooks naked and pees on them when they don’t bring in enough cash. Things turn into a cat-and-mouse game when Muffa tracks Irena down and wants revenge, but first wants the bundle of money she stole from him.

Slowly pieces of the puzzle come together and just when we think we have sorted out the mysteries of Irena’s life, there’s a twist or two. By the end the enigma of Irena’s past is cleared up in a bittersweet ending, where the ruined woman fights to be human again and to find the will to love again.

An Unknown Woman (La Sconosciuta)