Amongst other triumphs of the film, which is a masterpiece, it’s enchanting to watch Allen’s camera float around the opening and closing thanksgiving as he eavesdrops on conversations and digs into these 5 fascinating characters (Allen, Caine, Hershey, Farrow and Wiest).
These characters and settings are very lived in and natural—for Farrow, the film’s title character and centerpiece (we have her two sisters, her ex-husband and current husband as the leads) we have her actual apartment, her mother and children are actually used and she, of course, is very similar to this successful actress character
IMDB facts—according to USA Today when the film was released there was a movement to get Woody’s script nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s simply one of the better screenplays written
Part of the film’s structure is taken from Bergman’s fanny and alexander. Fanny and Alexander centers around the holidays with a sprawling family over three years
Ebert on it “Hannah and Her Sisters” is the best movie he has ever made
Such formal brilliance- each section starts with a title or quotation from the scene to follow. It’s simple white against plate just like Allen’s trademark opening credit titles. It makes the movie feel like a pointed movement through the world of this family and the individual players
We start with Caine’s voice over but we go to Allen’s later and have inner monologue sequences from Hershey, Wiest and they even do one for Farrow introduced almost 50 minutes in
The cast has talent oozing out everywhere- outside of the principle five we have Carrie Fisher, Sam Waterston, Daniel Stern, and a magnificent Max Von Sydow. And these other ones aren’t cameos but bit players as they work their way into Hollywood- we have Richard Jenkins, Julia Louise-Dreyfus, John Turturro and JT Walsh—the last 3 come within 15 second of each other and 15 years later they could probably carry a movie on their own.
The montages are memorable- never a throwaway. We have hilarious ones like Woody getting checked by doctors for cancer and of course the religion ones at the end- (the Wonderbread catholic one is hilarious) but we also have the beautiful NYC building architecture tour by Waterston
It’s a tribute to Michael Caine that his character doesn’t come off as more of a douche bag or “despicable” as he says in the movie. He’s awkward in his fawning over Hershey’s character and with his self-hatred and doubt (kudos for allen as well for a very well written character) his acts are both plausible and though not forgivable, not one that invokes hatred in the viewer either
Formal brilliance with the dueling musical themes for Woody and Caine’s character
Three flashback sequences—the flashback of Woody’s asking his ex-partner Tony Roberts for “sperm”, taking out Wiest on a date and then the genius Marx brothers life’s purpose moment
A triumph in screen writing for women and acting by the three female leads. One of my favorite scenes is the one pictured above with the 3 women at lunch- it’s a devastating 360 degree shot with such rich subtext- we also have reoccurring singing for women in his movies started by Keaton in Annie Hall– here both Wiest and Fisher get a shot
Very deserving Oscars for Caine, Wiest and Allen’s screenplay
I recently had a chance to rewatch Hannah and her Sisters – after all, Christmas IS getting closer.
So, it’s definitely the most tender and intimate of his films, and perhaps the only other ever since the duelling 70’s punches (with Annie Hall and Manhattan) that had such an immense cultural impact – you feel like you’ve known all these characters, and it isn’t just because they’re ridiculously well-written, but also because they’ve been the inspiration for so many others throughout recent film and especially TV history (that goes particularly for Wiest, Hershey and Caine’s characters).
It is very theatrical in its structure and writing, but it doesn’t really establish distance between the viewer and the characters, quite on the contrary. The theatricality in it all can be spotted in the perfectly crafted dialogue and inner monologues of each character – Dianne Wiest and her thoughts in the back of the car in the beginning of the film are comedy gold and, at the very same time, so real and telling of Holly and her needs. “I can’t believe I said that about the Guggenheim” (perfectly quotable, if you ask me) and so deeply Chekhovian (stealing a bit from the internet here, but I agree with the assessment) – inner frustration dancing around all over the place, not just here but in the film’s entirety.
There are moments that are just so touching and yet so real – the E. E. Cummings poem is one of the film’s best sequences and most sensitive scenes, it turns the soon-to-be affair between Caine’s Eliott and his wife’s sister, which is of course immoral and hurtful, into something of an unattainable dream, it gives it a poetic and deeply tragic dimension. We’re not here to judge all these people for their actions, but, instead, Allen invites us to understand who they are, and why they do what they do. It’s all about their flaws and imperfections and their rich emotional world.
Farrow’s Hannah is the eldest of the sisters, strong and caring and giving and too kind for her own good. The product of her parents’ toxic and unhealthy relationship, she feels like a burden to everyone and keeps on giving, All the while distancing herself emotionally from everyone around her. She’s successful and nice and too perfect. Combine that with Caine’s self hatred -as you’ve pointed out- and doubt and you get the perfect mix of a man who resents his wife for not being vulnerable enough to satisfy his need for self validation and a woman who can’t help him (she shouldn’t need to, tbh) or herself. Enter Hershey’s Lee, the younger free spirited sibling with the obvious father complex and the glowing presence, and the affair was inevitable. There’s this subtle tragedy about Lee – she is so easily taken by love or infatuation, she doesn’t feel assured or protected herself, she needs someone else to do that for her. She’s been looking up to and unconsciously imitating Hannah her whole life, and she’s doing it again by becoming involved with her husband. It could also be that she wanted to leave Von Sydow, but she couldn’t realise it herself, or bring herself to it, thus turning to her affair as an excuse to break things up. Eliott’s selfishness is apparent throughout this whole scenario and the way he handles things – he doesn’t seem to care for the position in which he places both sisters. These are all good people (perhaps Eliott a little less than the rest of them, but you get my point), who don’t really mean to harm, but their weaknesses and the choices they make lead them down that path.
Holly is pretty much a woman of her times, searching for her place in the world, not seeming able to hold any job. She has a creative drive within her but her constant insecurities and utter absence of self esteem prevent her from harnessing that drive to achieve the fulfillment she so seeks. Her introspection and neurotic tendencies are so beautifully outlined by the film’s script and approach, it’s masterful. Along with Allen’s Mickey, the hypochondriac who speaks too much saying all sorts of nonsense, with the high philosophical questions and the existential crisis (the scenes with his trying to find purpose and God through different religions are the funniest sequences in the whole movie), they make a wonderful and hilariously neurotic couple, managing to compensate for each other’s flaws. Their scene together in the store with the albums is the most touching and romantic throughout the film.
I think Hannah and her Sisters is rightfully considered one of Allen’s best films. It is incredibly well written, and it is unusually warm. More often than not, his endings are bittersweet (Manhattan I think, even though it was a great ending), or sometimes even a little sour (Husbands and Wives, VCB – in the sense that the characters regress to their former selves and their problems remain unresolved), but here it is all very tender and simple in a way – it’s just about a bunch of people, their lives and how they manage to cope with their personal issues and become better. And, in a way, it’s what makes it so great.
@Georg- amazing share! thank you– this is just a great breakdown of these rich characters
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