DIRECTED BY WOODY ALLEN
STARRING: MICHAEL CAINE, MIA FARROW, BARBARA HERSHEY, CARRIE FISHER, DIANNE WEST, MAX VON SYDOW AND WOODY ALLEN
It is an unavoidable thought that tells me every time I deal with a Woody Allen film that I am up against a man who knows quite a lot of things, which is why the mind decides to probe beyond the film itself, seek for analogies, excerpts from quite a bit of life that he happens to have lived to find the phase that could probably have inspired the same. And the reason, I suspect, why I liked ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ so much is because it somehow completed the puzzle, which, I happened to be attempting to solve in the wrong direction in the first place.
But I’m not saying that this would revive my interests in my (personally) lesser-liked films of his like ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ (1989) or its 2005 replica ‘Match Point’, I had my reasons for the developed distaste that sugar won’t solve but I still managed to piece them into his life and I find that to be reassuring. To me, it is like knowing the man by knowing his phases so I can get myself to understand which phases of his I could (or should) actually like citing congruousness. And it is this congruousness that I found in ‘Hannah and her Sisters’, which easily serves to be the prelude to a disastrous chain of events, possibly a downfall of thought that he happened to revive only after years of stabilizing himself post-1997. ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ is the gem that I’m talking about, following a couple of retraces he took to find his way.
It’s been 25 years, so I guess I’m alright with spoilers. ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ is essentially (as I saw it) a story of three sisters and three men, two of whom are (or have been) involved with more than one. And the course of things is not exactly an ethical dissection, as was the case with the then-forthcoming ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’, but a basic pursuit of frames of mind and those lines that could possibly lead to the same. The King, as powerless as he stands by himself, is played by Michael Caine, a soft-spoken bureaucrat whose anxious moments are almost entirely correlated with his actions with the contrary being true too. The Queen (Mia Farrow) has princesses one too many associated with both her husbands in what appears to be an underdone amount of screen space and emotional scope, and then there’s Allen himself, the jester who was once a crown prince and gets there again towards the end. With him there’s his wit around, and also a level of tranquility that one associates with his more serious role like ‘Annie Hall’ – I could almost see shades of Alvy Singer or may I be deluded if I didn’t.
For a man who’s been around for almost a half a century, what could make ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ one of the most crucial films of his career? Well, for one, it’s clarity, something that he achieves not just by quoting Tolstoy but also sufficiently through even his lesser characteristic pawns on screen: like Holly (Dianne West) for instance. Maybe it’s that period when the train slows down to make the ride look a little longer, maybe it’s because of the three distinctly monotonous thanksgiving atmospheres that Allen manages to create, maybe it’s the dewy-eyed Elliot who sees what he sees in exactly the way he likes to see it. Or maybe it’s just the best of Bach that’s been extensively utilized to fill the canvases. Either way, I could convincingly say that despite all the references, all thematic elements dealt and all kinds of loud thoughts that Allen promises the viewer, ‘Hannah and her Sisters’ is one film where he’s had his words underplayed by the voice of heart and that, for once, helps appreciate its resilience.
In other words, this is a film about the women, where the men do a ‘come and go’. And that’s oddly strengthening, as a thought.