Hannah and Her Sisters

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Hannah and Her Sisters at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Genre: Comedy-Drama
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Max von Sydow
Rated: PG-13

Any list of essential Woody Allen films would find Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)—the most financially successful of his career—somewhere near the top. As filmmaking, it’s less dynamic than Manhattan (1979) or Stardust Memories (1980), being more in line with Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) as brilliantly scripted and acted, but fairly utilitarian in terms of filmic style. (Having said that, there’s no such thing as a Woody Allen picture that doesn’t have a handful of images that startle in their beauty. Here, it would be the architectural tour of New York City cut to the overture from Madame Butterfly and the striking images of the city throughout the movie.)

Not being as dynamic as certain other Allen films is not especially a criticism, though, since this fragmented story of Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters (Barbara Hershey and Dianne Weist), along with the men in their lives (Michael Caine, Allen, Max von Sydow), achieves the kind of perfect balance that comes along maybe once in a filmmaker’s career. It works as comedy. It works as drama. It works as social commentary. But most incredible of all, it somehow never cheats any single story, moving from one to the other without a sense of losing any single thread for too long. The most surprising aspect is that Allen pulls this off despite the fact that his sequences as a comedy writer despairing over the futility of existence (the answer to which is pure Allen, by the way) are only loosely connected to the rest of the film. It’s simply an amazing balancing act.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “Hannah and Her Sisters

  1. Kent Priestley

    Recently I ordered a copy of John Lahr’s collection of profiles, “Show and Tell,” and just this morning read the one about Woody Allen.

    I was interested to find out how non-intrusive a director he is (overlooking his perfectionist streak), and how little he gives actors in the way of instructions or cues — they’re more or less left to figure it out on their own.

  2. TonyRo

    Classic Woody Allen right here.

    He needs to move back to New York and start courting Diane Keaton again so he can write some good stuff.

  3. Ken Hanke

    “I was interested to find out how non-intrusive a director he is (overlooking his perfectionist streak), and how little he gives actors in the way of instructions or cues—they’re more or less left to figure it out on their own.”

    That was pretty much what Jennifer Tilly said about working with him on BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, though she did tell a story about him asking her to shove another actor out the door before the guy could deliver an unfunny adlib he was insisting on incorporating into the script. (His actual instructions were, “Get him out the door before he can say that stupid goddam line.”) I got the impression that he’s not comfortable with personal confrontation.

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