If you’re going to hang your entire movie on one actor, then you can do a lot worse than Charlotte Rampling. A national treasure in at least three countries, she’s a multilingual icon of European cinema. She’s now the star of French language drama Hannah, in a role that won her the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival back in 2017. It’s a beguiling and opaque movie that doesn’t quite provide the answers an audience needs to connect the dots.
Rampling’s titular character is introduced taking part in a strange, shrieking vocal exercise as part of the amateur theatre group she attends. We see her take part in a stilted and decidedly unromantic dinner with her husband (André Wilms), as part of an evening in which the only words they seem to exchange are a “goodnight” as they get into bed. The next day, hubby is taken to prison for an unspecified, but clearly horrible, crime and Hannah is cast adrift as she deals with the implications of her partner’s actions.
Pallaoro’s film is certainly stripped back and minimalist, with sparse dialogue and a plot that trusts its audience to read meaning into what is taking place. Fortunately for the movie, Rampling is a performer capable of creating such a clear sense of character with little material. Her eyes carry the weight of her inner turmoil, whether she’s dealing with unruly neighbours upstairs or fielding nuisance phone calls and knocks on her door blaming her for her husband’s crimes.
Rampling’s virtuoso performance is not enough, though, to rescue the film from its own slow-moving descent into tedium. There’s plenty to be said for a movie that asks questions of its audience as well as its characters, but Hannah is simply too minimal to make a real impact. Its only explosion of drama – a scene in which Hannah tries to go to her grandchild’s birthday – gets the balance between intensity and show-don’t-tell subtlety just right and shows how powerful the film could have been.
Hannah‘s unique perspective often seems to skirt around the edges of compelling cinema. It’s a story of isolation, but one that isolates the audience as much as it isolates its protagonist. Every time it is dragged into the orbit of a major event, it’s as if Pallaoro pulls away in order to spend more time pointing his camera at Rampling’s admittedly expressive face.
Ultimately, it’s a film that’s let down by its devotion to its own style. In delivering a quiet and subdued drama at all costs, Pallaoro leaves a few too many gaps for the audience to get a foothold in the story. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where the only pieces you’ve got are the sky and a couple of trees. The beginnings of a complete picture are there, but the finished product is still some distance away.
Dir: Andrea Pallaoro
Scr: Andrea Pallaoro, Orlando Tirado
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, André Wilms, Simon Bisschop
Prd: Clément Duboin, John Engel, Andrea Stucovitz
DOP: Chayse Irvin
Music: Michelino Bisceglia
Country: Italy, France, Belgium
Run time: 93 mins
Hannah is in UK cinemas from 1st March.