Leonardo Da Vinci created awe inspiring paintings, Beethoven composed genius symphonies and Woody Allen writes the best dialogue on the planet, each man is a god in their field, but only one of them can boast 14 Oscar script nominations to his name. You talk about the Last Supper, I talk about Annie Hall and Hannah and her Sisters. Woody Allen’s perennial love affair with Ingmar Bergman once again manifests itself in one of his films; Hannah and her Sister can draw great parallels with Bergman’s seminal Fanny and Alexander, both films provide a turbulent decent into the lives of a dysfunctional family over the course of couple of years bookend by family gatherings, here in the shape of Thanksgiving while in Fanny and Alexander it is Christmas. In Hannah and her Sister we focus primary on the characters of three sisters Hannah, Holly and Lee, all connected by blood but in terms of personalities and success in life they are all diametrically opposed. Hannah (Mia Farrow) is the oldest, most successful and strong willed; while Holly (Dianne Wiest) on the other hand is in constant flux in life, never begin able to find her true calling, while Lee (Barbara Hershey) the youngest is an ex-alcoholic, student who always wears her heart on her sleeve.
The film opens up during Thanksgiving dinner, on the surface everything seems upbeat and festive, however Elliot (Michael Caine) the husband too Hannah finds himself deeply infatuated with her sister Lee “God she is Beautiful” are very first words spoken in the film, however even when we do find out that Lee harbors similar desires towards him in return and thus begins a secret love affair. It is never made abundantly clear where her feelings are true or if she is merely using Elliot as a stop gap for the whole left in her life during the decaying of her own relationship to Fredrick a self absorbed painter. But it isn’t only Lee whose life is experiencing upheaval. Holly who never seems to be able to quite find herself, has lived in the shadow of her much more successful older sister Hannah, causing major underlining tension between the two characters. This tension eventually boils to the surface in probably the most distinct scene in the film where all three sisters sit down in a restaurant; with the main topic of discussion being Holly’s need money from Hannah for what seems like the 100th time to fund her latest career path. Despite Hannah obligingly agreeing to do so, Holly still finds an excuse to play the victim stating that her sister only ever saw her as a “Loser”. What I love the most about this scene, is that it deviates greatly from Allen’s traditional technical approach to filmmaking, which is always subvert and naturalistic and rarely drawing attention to itself, however in this scene the camera slowly rotates around all three sisters as if circling the event horizon in a black hole before being engulfed by the dark abyss that is these sisters relationship. Unfortunately the only ever time Allen display this type of flare is in Annie Hall as we have the pleasure of seeing split screens, subtitles of the subtext of scenes and even breaking the fourth wall, which uses all these components so effectively and innovatively something regularly lacking in his work.
The last major plot element of the film features Woody Allen making his usual appearance in his own productions, playing here Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey, a hypochondriac TV producer who finds himself in an existential life crises concerning the point and meaning of life, during his latest health scare. Unfortunately whilst his usual appearances are effective such as is Manhattan and in Play it Again Sam, which he delivers wonderful performances which are integral for each particular films, yet in Hannah and her Sisters I found his narrative arc to being rather to preachy, self-righteous and ultimately unnecessary because it would have served better to have delved even deeper into the sister dynamics, and we need to see a lot more from Hannah who appeared to be more of a boot sale ornament in each scene rather than an actual character.
When you consider Hannah and her Sister was attributed with two three of the big Oscars; both supporting Oscars a fete only equated by The fighter and Julia, whilst also receiving the Oscar for best original screenplay, it really defines Wood Allen as a director and writer, he’s a fantastic actor’s director who can illicit some of the most wonderful performances from his actors, and working with him is always a career highlight, just ask Penelope Cruz and Mariel Hemingway. Then you just have to look at the fact that he has been nominated 14 times for best screenplay to show adept he is at writing dialogue, however while Hannah and her Sister demonstrates his fantastic acting directing and sensational writing, for me the film doesn’t break into my all time five best Allen pictures. This is mainly due to his inclusion into the story, which played to Allen’s usual hypochondriac role that we have seen him playing way to many times before. I also felt his story also greatly subtracted from the time we should have been spending with the three main actresses, and despite drawing the film out to a mind numbing 2 hours +, I never felt we were ever able to see enough of them Hannah and her Sister ironically