Chicago International Film Festival 2017 – Hannah REVIEW

Hannah movie

Hannah is a film with a lot to say, but it doesn’t seem too willing to say it. It resembles the title character a bit too much, drifting along without really conveying the consequences of the choices she has made.

For much of the film’s beginning, Hannah, beautifully played by Charlotte Rampling, is quietly going through her routines, both alone and with her husband. They are clearly entwined, hardly speaking at all as they circle or simply share space with each other. However, it’s eventually revealed that Hannah isn’t reticent so much as numb. When they both head out to a prison, we discover it’s not for a visit, but because her husband is being incarcerated himself. For what isn’t immediately clear, but while it’s never spelled out, it is slowly brought to light. And it is something that many find not only unspeakable, but unforgivable.

Just what was the extent of Rampling’s awareness of her husband’s crimes? Once he is locked away and she slowly emerges from her numbed state and tries to come to terms with her life and especially her isolation, the film suggests she knew much more than she ever let on, even to herself. Not only that, it indicates that her denial was due less to love than self-preservation, and an understated desperation for a facade of normality. It is a kind of cowardice that is also unforgivable, and certainly justifies her son’s decision to cut her out of his life and refuse to even allow her to see her grandson.

Of course, the fact that we’re able to come to any conclusions at all in Hannah is due to the exquisite, tragic grace of Rampling’s performance. It will undoubtedly bring 45 Years to mind, which demanded similar work from her, and owed much of its success to it. But the present film is a far more cerebral experience with even less of a plot, no narration or voiceover to act as a guide, or hardly any events at all.

But even fans of this kind of cinema won’t find much to like besides Rampling herself. The mundane details that comprise her character’s life, such as her amateur theater group’s various sound exercises, play readings that speak far too much to her current situation, and even a beached whale she comes across, are either too little to convey any kind of meaning, or seem so pointed they become laughable. There’s not even enough of a commitment to convey a general sense of meaninglessness. And the more Hannah unfolds, the more it becomes apparent that director Andrea Pallaoro isn’t so much showing as refusing to tell.

Hannah does experience a few consequences for her husband’s actions, but it’s hard to believe that there wouldn’t be others, and of a far more severe nature. Nor are such character studies rare anymore. Rampling’s performance is in itself a master class in the quietest kind of desperate turmoil, but other than further proof of her undeniable talent, there’s not much else to be taken from this.

Charlotte Rampling shines in Hannah, but even she can't compensate for the film's refusal to fully engage with the topics under discussion.

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