HANNAH (2018)

I missed seeing Hannah (2018) on the big screen. This film co-funded by Euroimages of the Council of Europe did not get a wide distribution in London but a friend alerted me.  She recommended the most depressing film about an old  woman she had ever seen and wanted to know what I thought. She knows that I do not like to be influenced by being told what the film is about so I had no preconceptions. 

My first impression was in response to the first image and sound. For the first time in films about old women I recognised my own ageing skin. Age spots are also called sun spots to make them more acceptable. In French they are sometimes referred to, more cruelly, as  ‘les fleurs de cimetière’. But I also noticed the temporal vein that had me worried a few months ago. 

The opening close-up is of Charlotte Rampling making odd disturbing unnatural sounds. I interpreted this as a woman in deep distress, possibly demented and the next sequence as a session of psychological workshop for people needing to express their distress. I wondered why the face closeup     filled only half of the wide screen. This framing was common throughout the film.

As the film progressed I desisted from this interpretation as Rampling seemed to operate normally going to acting workshops, swimming, working as a cleaner and child minder, baking, using public transport. But I became more and more irritated by the greys, browns and different shades of cold blue of the settings, by Rampling’s cropped closeups appearing more often than not on the side of the screen with a dark area on the other half. The long sequences, the  brown vertical lines appearing regularly in some scenes, the stairs, the long sequences of waiting for the train? tube?, the multitude of stairs, children running, the dog not eating, all details of the mise-en-scene are designed to force you to make sense of a film that has no story. One is forced to interpret the signs and try and fit them in a non existing narrative. I felt insulted  by the scene – a too obvious image –  where she emasculates (is this the right word?) the lilies after being rejected by her son. The sequences about a beached dead whale and the walk to the dustbin in the back of buildings seem to be  cuts of  another film.   

I sought  help in the reviews. It seems that most of them picked out some of details in the film to support their own interpretations which are often contradictory. In so doing they construct a story by ignoring other significant sequences.  The late divulging of the reason for the husband’s incarceration in particular is left for viewers to imagine or ignore and the reviewers to be so divided in their assessments. 


This film deserves a serious study about film and interpretation. Rampling obtained many acting awards for this film but it seems that it is not possible to understand who she is. 

She is described by  English, American and French reviewers in many different ways : 

bleak portrait of an ageing house-cleaner in suburban Brussels who is struggling to cope with the fallout from her husband’s recent criminal conviction (it involves, we learn over the course of the film, child sexual abuse).

woman crumbling under duress after her husband is incarcerated

mutique, grise, confite de mal-être et de haine d’elle-même

Hannah’s face may tremble, but we sense more than a hint of steel underneath  

  Hannah imperceptibly deteriorates 

  frigid portrait of a woman in crisis

Isolation and extreme emotional anguish

Hannah’s face may tremble, but we sense more than a hint of steel underneath

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
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1 Response to HANNAH (2018)

  1. judith laurance says:

    I am still a loyal follower Rhina. Hope all is well with you, and that ageing still has its pleasures as well as pains.

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