When a filmmaker chooses to hide more than what they show on screen, it’s up the performances to hold the story together and present nuances and hints that are never spoken in words.
Andrea Pallaoro’s Hannah is exactly that – a subtle and mysterious film by design that intentionally does not reveal its character’s backstory but offers us flashes of hints and a remarkable leading performance that presents us with a window to a haunted and tormented soul, even if we don’t really know what actually happened.
Charlotte Rampling plays Hannah, an elderly woman whose husband goes to prison for a reason which is never revealed. Finding herself alone with no one but her dog and old apartment whose corners speak volumes of shattered memories and a broken mother’s heart, Hannah spends her time between acting classes and cleaning apartments for money. She tries to find extravert means to express what’s going inside her – and finds in acting classes a chance to express her inner emotions.
The film is first and foremost a character study and a reflection on isolation and loneliness. It’s not a film destined for mass appeal, and even Rampling’s most recent 45 Years was a flashier, more eventful piece of a couple’s broken marriage. Pallaoro isn’t interested in plate-smashing sequences, dramatic moments or long monologues. He’s rather focused on utilizing Rampling’s impeccable skills to show us how a character is reacting to her loneliness. In one striking sequence, we get to discover one of the very few revealed elements about Hannah’s life – her only son had abandoned her and shuns her away from his life. It is the only time when Pallaoro chooses to make Hannah an outwardly expressive character and in the film’s most powerful scene, Hannah breaks down and we see her accumulation of pain and grief in such a sensationally acted scene by Rampling.
Many unanswered questions remain in the film – and while this may turn off some viewers looking for clear answers, it worked here unlike other films. This is because it is clear from the very first scene that this is not a sequential story. It’s a character study that sweeps viewers with it and that’s why the camera almost never leaves Rampling’s face. We’re with her, feeling for her and following her mysterious journey as she moves between acting classes, her old apartment and the homes she clean. Her past remains mysterious and perhaps even darker than what we think – one scene makes it clear that she may be a much darker character than shown on screen – but we never know much more throughout the film’s 95 minutes.
Rampling delivers a subtle, emotional and powerful performance as Hannah. The actress expresses so much without uttering a single word in most of her scenes and the second half of the film shows us her torment, anger and grief in marvelous ways thanks to Rampling’s deep understanding of the character.
Verdict: Pallaoros’ film shows little and hides plenty, but it’s Rampling that makes it an engaging, thoughtful character study of someone we think we know but end up wondering what secrets and other layers of emotions could be hidden within Hannah.