Posts Tagged ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’

Either strange cosmic forces of synchronicity are at work, or someone at my DVD rental package company is reading this blog: having recently complained (very mildly, I thought) about the random nature of our relationship, and the occasionally odd juxtapositions of successive movies, I have just been sent two Woody Allen movies in a row. If Manhattan, Zelig or Love and Death turns up next I think I will be justified in assuming that someone is having a laugh (if by some miracle my DVD-packer really is reading this, please send Tiptoes instead).

Anyway, the movie that came was Hannah and Her Sisters, Allen’s 1986 movie. My knowledge of this film was basically limited to remembering that Michael Caine won an Oscar for it, and various behind-the-scenes tidbits gleaned from his first autobiography – being dragged back to New York for reshoots, finding Allen’s domestic arrangements a bit bizarre, feeling uncomfortable about having to do an (I kid you not) fairly graphic sex scene (this didn’t make it into the movie), and so on. Actually watching it, however, I found the film to be very familiar, albeit in a retroactive sort of way.


Allen’s then-partner and muse Mia Farrow plays Hannah, a fairly successful actress, married to Michael Caine’s financier. The movie concerns two years in her life and the lives of those around her, mainly (as the title of the movie would suggest) her two sisters, played by Dianne West and Barbara Hershey (before she became Judge Dredd’s boss – yes, I know I’ve done that joke previously).

Not a great deal happens to Hannah herself; she is depicted as the strong, mostly silent lynchpin of the family. However, Caine finds himself besotted with Hershey, who is already involved with a much older man (Max von Sydow – one of several tips-of-the-hat to Ingmar Bergman in the film), and they begin an affair. West is struggling in her own acting career and has a number of problems, mostly connected to her own insecurity. She frequently borrows money from Hannah to fund her latest attempt at a career change, embarks on troubled romances, and so on.

The film’s other major plot thread concerns Hannah’s ex-husband, played by Allen himself. He is a TV producer and lifelong hypochondriac who is suddenly and shockingly confronted with his own mortality, which leads him to completely reassess his life and priorities. Allen being the performer that he is, this is the most openly comedic element of the film, with the scenes of him contemplating becoming a Roman Catholic or Hare Krishna inevitably seeming comic.

Nevertheless, there’s an introspective, serious undertone going on here, which does carry across into the rest of the movie – and the confrontation-with-mortality angle seems to me to be illuminating too. For all that the title suggests that this is a film with a female perspective, it seems to me that it’s actually more about the male mid-life crisis (Allen had just turned 50 when he made it) – if it’s about women at all, then it concerns them in terms of their relationships with the men in their lives: Caine and Allen both have relationships with more than one of the sisters, one of the main elements of the West story is an unhappy love affair, and so on.

In the end I’m not quite sure what the film is actually trying to say: on the face of things, everyone ends up reasonably happy. Nevertheless you can certainly discern some of the misanthropy that’s become a feature of Allen’s more recent work here if you look for it – the most successful, sensible, and well-adjusted of the three main women is cheated on by her husband with one sister, and endlessly sponged-off by another.

It’s all well-played, though, and engagingly written, but the stories aren’t particularly affecting and for me it lacked the playfulness and inventive wit of some of Allen’s earlier films. What’s very noticeable about Hannah and Her Sisters in terms of its place in the Allen canon is that the structure and tone of the film is very similar to that of many of his more recent offerings: everyone is affluent and metropolitan, the film switches back and forth between the different personal and romantic entanglements of a small group of connected characters, and so on. Having already seen films like Whatever Works, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, I instantly understood the kind of film this was going to be. It’s certainly fresher and more accomplished than any of those, but it shares many of their flaws – strong performances and formal quirkiness don’t really obscure the fact that this is a film with a limited perspective that isn’t really as profound as it perhaps thinks it is. And – it goes without saying for an Allen movie – a few more jokes wouldn’t have gone amiss, either. But then I always did prefer the Early, Funny ones.

Read Full Post »