Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hannah and Her Sisters

Hannah and Her Sisters; drama / comedy, USA, 1986; D: Woody Allen, S: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Max von Sydow, Carrie Fisher, Daniel Stern, Maureen O'Sullivan, Julie Kavner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

New York, Thanksgiving day. Hannah has four adoptive children and is happily married to Elliott, but he falls in love with Hannah's sister Lee even though she already has a relationship with an older painter. Elliott seduces Lee and she dumps the painter. But after months of affairs, Elliott returns to Hannah... Mickey, Hannah's former lover and a TV producer, discovers during a medical test that he hears weaker on one ear and start imagining he has a tumor. When the doctors discover he is actually healthy, Mickey starts questioning his life and if there is a God, but figures there is no answer and falls in love with Hannah's other sister, Holly.

"Hannah and Her Sisters", one of the best movies of the 80s, seems like "Annie Hall VII" since Woody Allen once again repeated his ambitious calligraphy with philosophical questions and convincing characters, but even though it does not have the same genius visual style and inventiveness as the above mentioned film, it still works marvelously, almost as a good book, since it elevates the human spirit. It is one of the rare movies that tackle the essence of some fundamental questions: what is life? And what is its meaning? Allen's films in his later, serious phase tend to divide many—he chooses long takes and avoids any kind of tricks because he wants the viewers to concentrate on the content, not the style, and his stories are without glamour or frenetic fast editing—since he rather chooses introverted films that are refreshingly realistic, calm, intellectual and seem like a slice of life. The wider audience needs to adjust first to really enjoy "Hannah" because there is no spectacle, yet many of the "sober" situations are real spectacles of human drama, like the scene where Elliott (wonderful Michael Caine) is nervous at night because he has cheated on his wife Hannah with her sister Lee and decides to phone her, yet then backs up. At that moment, the phone rings, he picks it up and discovers it is Lee who just says: "I just wanted to tell you that I feel close to you tonight", and then hangs up, leaving him petrified. Truly, only a masterpiece can come up with such a touching, yet simple moment.

The funny part of the film is revolving around Mickey's (Allen) doubts about life and his search for some meaning. There is this fantastic scene where he walks by a statue of a thinking man and thinks: "Millions of books written on every conceivable subject by the great minds, and yet none of them has more clue about the big question of life than I do". The hypochonder, who once thought he had a "Malign melanoma, yet that just turned out be a black stain on his shirt", is a thoroughly developed personality in the finest manner of Allen's many intellectuals, and embodies many dilemmas people already had or will have in the future, fearing a futile existence. The way he loosens up a bit and finds at least some sort of peace while watching the Marx bros. film "Duck Soup" (!) in a theatre, culminated in one of the most memorable of all the monologues Allen ever written: "Look at all those funny people on the screen...So what if the worst is true and there is no God and you just go around once and that's it? Is it really that bad? Don't you want to be a part of the experience? Well, it's not all a drag. I thought to myself: geez, I should stop ruining my life with questions to which there are no answers to and just enjoy my life." It's too bad Allen and Caine don't share a single scene together—maybe because Caine is basically Allen's alter ego—yet the whole film is filled with an all-encompassing wisdom.


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