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D: Andrea Pallaoro / 93m

Cast: Charlotte Rampling, André Wilms, Stéphanie Van Vyve, Simon Bisschop, Fatou Traoré, Julien Vargas, Gaspard Savini

Hannah (Rampling) is a quiet woman, not given to speaking much, and not given to engaging with people unless it’s the woman whose house she cleans, Elaine (Van Vyve), or Elaine’s blind son, Nicholas (Bisschop). Her usual reticence has been exacerbated though, by the imminent imprisonment of her husband (Wilms). She’s a dutiful wife who stands by him, even though his crime appears to be of a predatory sexual nature. Once he begins his prison sentence, Hannah becomes even more withdrawn, with only her cleaning job and an acting group that she attends regularly, to break up the monotony of being alone at home. There are further setbacks: her membership at the local baths is revoked, she’s turned away from her grandson’s birthday party, and she makes a discovery at home that has a profound effect on her relationship with her husband. Hannah tries to get her life back in order, but it’s increasingly difficult, and as she negotiates the new terrain of her life, letting go of the past proves more of a struggle than she could ever have expected…

From the start, Hannah is a movie that is likely to divide audiences. For those looking for more mainstream fare, Hannah will be a challenge that may find them abandoning the movie part way through, while those looking for arthouse fare that explores the “human condition”, this will be an unalloyed pleasure. Replete with takes and scenes that depict Hannah either staring glumly off into the distance, or staring glumly into the foreground, or even staring glumly while in repose, Andrea Pallaoro’s ultra-leisurely depiction of one lonely woman’s faltering attempts at personal rehabilitation is easily the kind of movie that will have some viewers asking themselves, “when is something going to happen?” But as the phrase has it, the devil is in the details, and while at first glance Hannah’s life is full of small, inconsequential moments, it’s precisely these moments and their gradual accumulation that carry an unexpected emotional heft. Hannah may be occupying a world that only she has access to, but it’s a world that is keeping her afloat following her husband’s incarceration. Here there aren’t any sudden life-changing decisions that solve all her problems overnight (as might happen in more mainstream fare), just a number of hesitant steps toward a newer, better life.

It helps that Pallaoro has enlisted the aid of Charlotte Rampling to tell Hannah’s story. Rampling is one of the few actresses who can display a range of emotions with just a glance, and here she’s on magnificent form, giving a performance that gets to the heart of Hannah’s predicament. Behind that seemingly passive face, with its mouth permanently turned down (when she does smile it’s misinterpreted), Rampling perfectly captures the hopes and fears and muted dreams and feelings that Hannah struggles to express, even to herself. We learn nothing of Hannah’s back story, never find out what she was like before her husband’s crime turned everything upside down (or even if it did), but Rampling shows us a woman seemingly trying to reconnect with herself as well as the wider world. There’s a scene towards the end with a beached whale that Hannah feels compelled to go and see, and though the symbolism is clumsy in a movie that is otherwise compellingly subtle, it’s a moment of hope for Hannah. The only question that remains – and it’s one that Pallaoro is rightly uninterested in answering – is whether or not Hannah can take this newfound hope and use it to push herself forward to where she needs to be. But that’s a tale for another movie…

Rating: 8/10 – not for all tastes, but intriguing and fascinating nevertheless for the way it paints a portrait of personal reclamation through the accumulated minutiae of daily endeavour, Hannah is an affecting drama with far more to say than at first glance; Pallaoro keeps the focus on Rampling throughout, a decision that allows his story to be given the fullest expression possible, and which allows the patient viewer to become heavily invested in its troubled central character.