Lost and Found – Rediscovering ‘La Sconosciuta’ (The Unknown Woman) – (Italy 2006 – 118 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - May 01, 2014
Lost and Found – Rediscovering ‘La Sconosciuta’ (The Unknown Woman) – (Italy 2006 – 118 mins)

The Italian psychological thriller ‘La Sconosciuta’ blew me away when I first saw it a few years ago. It’s one of those movies that can affect you, leaving you out of breath by the time the emotional, bittersweet finale comes. I think this movie also helps dispel the old adage that all the great stories have already been told.

Irena, a young Ukrainian woman forced into prostitution, engages in a violent struggle with her Russian pimp; Muffa, leaving him for dead. Making off with his money, Irena escapes to Italy where she finds work as a nanny for an affluent Italian family. Through various flashbacks we learn that Irena had suffered years of mental and physical abuse from Muffa, and was even forced to bear several children, all taken from her at birth. Her investigations to find her youngest child had led Irena to her new employers; the Adachers, who have adopted Irena’s daughter, the frail and lonely Téa. Now with Muffa hot on her trail, Irena becomes desperate to protect both herself and Téa, which leads to a long overdue retribution, and ultimately murder.

‘La Sconosciuta’ does contain some extremely powerful moments that linger long in the memory. The scenes where Irena uses her own brand of ‘tough love’ to teach Téa to stand up for herself, are disturbing to watch, as are the flashbacks where we see Irena’s emotional and physical tortures. Scenes such as these upset some critics, who called the movie misogynistic and vulgar. As shocking as these moments are, I think they were crucial to the story and help explain Irena’s sometimes drastic actions.

32 year old Russian actress Ksenia Rappoport is outstanding as the emotionally drained Irena. An accomplished stage actress of the classics, including ‘The Seagull’ and ‘Uncle Vanya’, Rappoport carries the movie and convincingly conveys Irena’s desperation and longing for closure. Ksenia later won a Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival for her performance in the 2009 Italian thriller ‘La doppia ora’, as a hotel maid involved in a mystery. Italian actress Claudia Gerini is very good as Téa’s adoptive mother Valeria, who comes to a tragic end at the hands of Irena’s Russian pimp (well played by a menacing Michele Placido). In her only big screen movie to date, young Clara Dossena also makes an impression as the delicate Téa, who is both drawn to and frightened by her new nanny.

In his first movie since ‘Malèna’ (2000) writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore really came back with a bang here, making an emotionally draining masterpiece, a long way from his worldwide favourite, the beautiful and moving ‘Cinema Paradiso’ (’88). Like his previous films, it is flawlessly shot and here Tornatore expertly creates a rivetting mood piece. Tornatore’s regular composer Ennio Morricone composed one of his best pieces in years, winning various awards for his simple yet beautiful strings-based score.

A puzzle which slowly falls into place, ‘La Sconosciuta’ is intensely gripping and very powerful. A rollercoaster ride of a movie, that’s a mix of human drama and Hitchcockian thriller, and it remains my favourite movie of 2006.

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