Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) by Woody Allen

Hannah and Her Sisters may well be the best of all of Woody Allen's films. If it isn't, it is right up there with his other masterpieces, Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. The film concerns itself with Hannah (Mia Farrow), Her ex-husband (Woody Allen), her current husband (Michael Caine) and her two sisters (Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest). Woody Allen's character is a neurotic, hypochondriac, middle-aged, New York TV Exec who is trying to live his life while being crippled by fear and anxiety that his life is so momentary yet will be meaningless as soon as its over.

In many ways, Allen's character is the character through whom we experience the film. He is our link into this New York lifestyle that many of us are probably unfamiliar with. The film is told in a series of vignettes that can be watched as separate short films but come together to make a coherent whole. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert mentions that this approach makes for an ironic statement at the end of the film that we try so hard to organize our lives into these neat little categories that we think make sense in our lives, and to an extent we can pull them out and make a neat little story out of them; but we, in the end, have to show that neat little story in the context of two full years or even a life completed in order to fully understand the gravity or the mundane nature of a given event.

Woody Allen was inspired to write this film after re-reading Tolstoy's beautiful Anna Karenina, and in many ways viewers who have read the novel will see similarities in character traits and plot events; however, it is not more than an influence. When first released the film had supporters lobbying to make it the first Screenplay nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for drama, an honor still never bestowed upon a screenplay, though, in the end there was not a Pulitzer given out for drama in 1986.

In the end, Woody Allen has been one of the prolific of all American auteurs and has been, at times, truly great. This is one of his finest achievements.

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