Gorgeously and at times frustratingly austere, “Hannah” has a simple, compelling premise. But more than that, it has the unparalleled Charlotte Rampling. As the title character, she’s the deceptively calm vortex of every scene, many of them wordless.
The emotional isolation of Hannah, whose husband (André Wilms) is serving a prison sentence, is the subject of this unconventional character study, the second feature by director Andrea Pallaoro. As welcome as his stripped-down approach is, it could have used a few more jolts of friction like the brief, fraught scenes in which he and co-writer Orlando Tirado reveal the nature of the crime. But their interest isn’t one man’s culpability; it’s the way Hannah’s very identity splinters under the weight of anxiety, denial and shame.
While her spaniel whines pitifully for its missing master, her own complex feelings are still working their way to the surface. In her acting class and her housekeeping duties at a modernist mansion, a cloud of self-imposed guilt by association shadows her. An overheard lovers’ fight on the subway sparks a micro-upheaval — a miracle of understated performance.
With a lesser actor, the meticulous beauty of Chayse Irvin’s 35-mm cinematography would have overwhelmed the elliptical story. But Rampling, a Modigliani of long-limbed litheness with a face built for sorrow, inhabits the role and the visual compositions so deeply that the character resonates long after the film has ended. To watch Hannah’s tender exchanges with a blind boy (Simon Bisschop) or her crisp efficiency with a bunch of voluptuous lilies is to see a woman clinging to a life she barely recognizes.
In French and English with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills