Hannah

If you’re going to make a movie that plays like a collection of furtive, voyeuristic glances, it’s a great idea to cast Charlotte Rampling.

The 72-year-old British thespian can hold a viewer’s attention by merely shrugging or taking a breath. As a result, she can make the most mundane experiences seem mesmerizing. That skill is essential for Hannah because Italian co-writer-director Andrea Pallaoro gives her almost no “Oscar clips” to perform. He gives her no loud, histrionic monologues to deliver, nor does he give her much in the way of meltdowns or any other brash way to demonstrate her formidable skill. If you’re as talented as Rampling is, you don’t have to show off.

“…why Hannah’s closest relationship is with her dog and why she works as a housekeeper at her age.”

Through much of Hannah, Rampling is often in the margins of the screen while others are having outbursts. The drama comes from the title character trying to keep her composure as the rest of the world seems to be falling apart. By making her quiet corner of the screen more captivating than the portions where people are yelling or screaming, it’s easy to see how Rampling won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival.

Pallaoro is stingy in revealing why Hannah (Rampling) struggles to maintain her reserve. The movie begins with her holding a steady expression as while the cries of what sounds like a wild animal are blaring in the background. It turns out to be an acting class. Through a long series of nearly wordless sequences, Hannah takes a train home to make dinner for her husband (André Wilms), who doesn’t seem terribly affectionate or even that alert. Perhaps there isn’t a warm or friendly way for a woman to get ready to take her husband to prison.

Pallaro takes nearly half the film to reveal why Hannah’s closest relationship is with her dog and why she works as a housekeeper at her age. Pollaro doesn’t feel like spoon-feeding information to the audience, and that sometimes makes Hannah slow and taxing to watch. Instead, he’s more interested in arousing a viewer’s curiosity. We know something’s off about Hannah’s life, but Pollaro wants us to figure out why Hannah is living in such gloomy isolation.  

“…more interested in arousing a viewer’s curiosity.”

Pollaro shot the film in French and Belgian locations, and if subtitles frustrate you, they’re not a problem here. The dialogue is so sparse that you don’t need to understand French to know what’s going on. Chayse Irvin’s photography makes ordinary urban landscapes seem more intriguing than they should be. A swimming pool with cracking tiles normally looks dull.

Still, all of this would be a wasted experience if Rampling weren’t quietly dominating the screen. She’s shown off for directors like Alan Parker, Lucino Visconti, John Boorman, Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen and others, so it’s refreshing to see how effortlessly she can make reticence engrossing.

Hannah (2017) Directed by Andrea Pallaoro. Written by Andrea Pollaoro and Orlando Tirado. Starring Charlotte Rampling, André Wilms, Stéphanie Van Vyve, Simon Bisschop, Jessica Fanhan, Fatou Traoré, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Gaspard Savini, Julien Vargas, and Luca Avallone.

7 out of 10

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