Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hannah and Her Sisters


Dir: Woody Allen (Oscar Best Screenplay)

Perhaps my favorite Allen film, this exquisite examination of the interconnected lives of three sisters is a top example of psychological complexity and true compassion for the characters. Allen's writing prefectly caputers the love and jealousy that marks sibling rivalry, making each character flawed yet strong, petty yet magnanimous, and worthy of our care and attention throughout.

Standouts are Diane Wiest (Oscar for this role) as the youngest sister, the black sheep who struggles with addiction and life in the shadow of her favored sisters and Max von Sydow as the troubled, cynical lover of the middle daughter. It is Sydow and a whole host of other side characters that makes the movie so compelling. Each subplot is easily strong enough to support a movie unto itself, making the context of the main story (an affair between Barbara Hershey and Michael Caine, who also received the Oscar for this role) so rich that all elements of the narrative pull their own weight. Each scene, and each character, is as a result enthralling, making the whole movie experience energetic and satisfying.

Allen's direction, so often ignored or underrated, is top notch as well. He films the various parties where all of the characters congregate so well, sweeping cameras and long takes that spatially underscore the relationships between all of these people. He has directed his actors to interrupt one another, talk over each other, not listen to each other, just like real conversations between family members, lending an authenticity to the whole that works very well. He has relegated his own acting to less screen time than normal, becoming himself one of the subplots that is the strength of the movie.

This is familial drama at its best. Witty, incisive, illuminating of the human condition, I consider it one of the best films of the entire decade.