Thursday, November 24, 2011

CANON OF FILM: "HANNAH AND HER SISTERS"

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

Director/Screenplay: Woody Allen

“Hannah and Her Sisters,” one of Woody Allen’s best films, is often placed with the comedy label by most, but now it probably seems closer in feeling and story to Woody Allen’s more tragic films, although it’s not exactly a tragedy either. Well, for some... well it depends on how you look at it. The film plays more like an episodic novel with little vignettes separated by irony-laden title cards as the movie, episode by episode outline the pasts, presents and possible futures of it’s characters, all members of the same family in some form or another, and spanning three years beginning, middling, and ending with Thanksgiving dinners. The three sisters are Hannah (Mia Farrow), the happy wife of Elliot (an Oscar-winning Michael Caine), Lee (Barbara Hershey) the depressed wife of an overly reclusive artist (Max von Sydow) and Holly (Oscar-winning Dianne Wiest) a recovering coke-addict actress/caterer/whatever who lacks complete confidence in herself so she resorts to wildly erratic behavior. We also meet Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) a hypochondriac who may or may not have something actually wrong with him, and may or may not know how to react either way. And these are just some of the characters that metriculate in and out as life goes on within the family, depending on who’s in most emotional need at the moment. For instance, Elliot who does love Hannah, has developed a crush on Lee, so much so that he must eventually take action. Lee feels trapped being a muse for her somber artist husband, and enjoys the attention and e.e. cummings poems that Elliot recommends her constantly. Hannah is oblivious to his attraction, in part because she’s watching her kids from Mickey and taking care of her parents and their own problems. And speaking of problems, Holly whose catering partner April (Carrie Fisher) has gone with the architect (Sam Waterston, uncredited) she was dating, struggles to stay off drugs by trying to find new ways to be creative, eventually leading to her trying to write, which, like all her sudden and everchanging life-paths, requires borrowing money. Meanwhile, Mickey, after finding out nothing is wrong with him, can’t seem to deal with it and struggles to find some sort of religion for closure, much to the dismay of his deeply Jewish parents, as he looks into everything from Christianity to Hara Krishnas. Mickey doesn’t seem like a key character, but he is the contrast in the film. Everybody else is struggling to live their lives, while Mickey unfortunately has the foresight to see it’s pointlessness at the end. Than there’s Woody Allen, who won his third Oscar for writing the film, and directs in a quiet way that only gets flashy when showing tensions so buried under the surface, some of the characters may not be aware it exists, or ever know for that matter. The movie seems to know the characters better than the characters know themselves, and this is crucial. There’s a particularly amazing scene involving the three sisters who are out to lunch, and Allen uses a steadycam to continually revolving around table, focusing on one sister at a time, and we are the only ones who knows all the secrets the three sisters are hiding from each other. We can see that if certain people were to see each other at the right moments, their problems could be over, but they must all go through the situations and emotional problems on their own. Even once the right people find each other, will it be at the right moment? I think that’s Allen’s point is that the film, and life is a series of moments from one to another. It’s how the emotions experienced during those moments that trigger our actions and thoughts, that makes everything more difficult than it probably should be. I don’t always recall exactly what happens to each character at the end of the film, but I probably shouldn’t anyway, cause depending on emotions and moments, it could all be completely different by the next Thanksgiving.
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