Hannah and Her Sisters – dir.Woody Allen, 1986

Woody Allen never wants you to forget this film.  So he made it perfect. Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters, Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Diane Wiest) are ostensibly Allen’s version of the three Graces, but with New York City spin.  We know he likes the Greeks, because of the short, Oedipus Wrecks in New York Stories, and Mighty Aphrodite, not just rubric but literal affiliations with the Greek myths.  The tragedy and the melodrama, work with his neurotic pace, after all it was he who wrote; ‘comedy is tragedy plus timing.’ The sisters bestow both similarities, and dialectical opposition, to the graces. Between them the sisters have foibles and kindnesses, cavernous weaknesses and virtues, carved like sculptured alabaster that lets the light bounce off to let the muscles and veins and the reality of human life come through.  Allen explores the virtuosity of women by dichotomising them against a plethora of useless men.  Though Holly may preliminarily be flawed and misguided, with a cocaine addiction and most unforgivably for her sisters, an irksome lack of direction, it is ultimately concluded that it was a struggle she had to undertake to realise her creative ambition. Lee has perhaps the most questionable moral conduct with an adulterous affair with Elliott (Michael Caine) Hannah’s husband, but this is explicable in that we are somehow not led to pour scorn on her betrayal but to empathise with her unhappiness and general ennui.  As for Elliott, a thinly disguised Anglo-Allen he may be, but there is certainly much there to ridicule in his actions and near creepy amorous obsession with Lee.  The film never loses consciousness of its integrity and it never becomes an either-or piece, neither wholly drama, romance, or comedy.   The film reflects the hourglass of life, the tragi-comedy, some of us encased in separate ends, none knowing when is the turn.  The film is sheer glory, and knows it itself. The existential crisis of Mickey (Allen) is lifted on a cinema visit to see the Marx Brother’s Duck Soup, which is a bit like what this film does, it lets you know you should hold on.



2 responses to “Hannah and Her Sisters – dir.Woody Allen, 1986

  1. streetlegalplay

    Great review! This is my favorite movie of all time. Yesterday I was sifting through some used paperbacks on one of those Sixth Avenue vendor’s tables and found The Easter Parade, which Lee (Barbara Hershey) mentions in one scene of the movie. I’d looked for the novel on account of hearing its title in the movie but hadn’t been able to find it (until yesterday), so I wrote it off as something obscure, out-of-print, and possibly extinct. Then I found it and read the back cover. It’s about the intertwined lives and miseries of two sisters. Hannah and Her Sisters is about three sisters (see also, Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”). Woody Allen always knows how to drop those charming little allusions.

    Kyle Thomas Smith

    • thanks for the comment, i thought about Chekhov as a reference but didn’t know enough about to him as to make a sufficient linkage


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