Hannah And Her Sisters

Hannah and Her Sisters is Woody Allen’s most novelistic film: a tale of crisscrossing plotlines, strewn by multiple narrators, each a fully drawn character locked in or out of love with one of the others, and seeking answers to human needs and darker mysteries. It’s also Allen’s most redemptive film. In the end, the strands are resolved, the needs met, the mysteries not solved but set aside for the sake of enjoying life’s pleasures. In this sense, it’s reminiscent of Fanny and Alexander, the similarly titled (and also atypically euphoric) film made four years earlier by Allen’s morose hero Ingmar Bergman. Both films begin and end with lavish holiday dinners, and both chart voyages of infidelity, doubt, and despair, before settling into a celebration of the good life: family, friends, and haute elegance.

The story centers on the self-contained Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her two husbands—former (Allen) and current (Michael Caine)—who, at various points, love both her and one of her two sisters (Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest). A bit schematic, but Allen, who wrote and directed the film, unfurls ideas and plotlines far and wide from that premise, and a sign of his mastery at this stage of his career is that it all hangs together. (Compare it with Annie Hall of nine years earlier, a great film in its own way, but it took Ralph Rosenblum’s editing to mold order from chaos.) Finally, it’s not only very funny but deeply moving.

713hannah.box.jpgHannah is also a visually sophisticated film. Starting with Manhattan, six years earlier, Allen put much care in camera placement, and he hired great cinematographers (here, Carlo DiPalma) to help get the effects he wanted. Hannah was a gorgeous-looking film: the lush interiors of the apartments, the grime and glory of the city’s streets, towering buildings, and old bookstores.

It’s a shame, then, that this 1080p transfer fails to capture its full beauty. The same is true of all the Allen discs (DVDs and Blu-rays) from this era, which coincides with his best films. The fault probably lies with MGM, a studio not known for stellar transfers. Hannah looks better than its DVD of several years ago. For much of the film, it’s quite fine: Colors are rich, fabrics are palpable, flesh looks like flesh. But details in shadow are muddled, long shots tend to be soft, film grain lapses into video noise from time to time. But the glorious soundtrack is served well enough. Above all, this is a great film. At some point, Criterion should try to buy out the catalogue. Meanwhile, buy this.

Studio: MGM, 1986
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0
Length: 107 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Woody Allen