HANNAH (Directed by Andrea Pallaoro)
After her triumph three years ago in Andrew Haigh’s marvellous study of an unravelling marriage in 45 Years, Charlotte Rampling shows no falling off in her ability to portray internalised, wordless pain, winning last year’s Volpi Best Actress Award at Venice for her role in this film. In each the flow of a woman’s ordinary life is ultimately destroyed by the fact of her marriage, but whereas in the earlier film it builds up to explode in mute rage, here the flame burns inexorably on as we see a life and identity disintegrate though shame and helplessness.
The director unsettles us with with his opening image of Hannah screaming from the depths of her soul. Yet this isn’t really her pain, we comfortably decide, as it turns out to be taking place in some kind of acting/therapy class, and she’s surrounded by others doing the same. And yet, having been disquieted, we never really lose that sick feeling for the rest of the film, and we’re soon justified. It gradually emerges that Hannah’s husband, whose very existence we don’t suspect for a while, is on the point of going to prison. His crime is unspoken but there are hefty clues – the photographs, the mother hammering on the door, the son’s disgust – enough to know Hannah is also a pariah by association.
The camera is in almost continuous focus on Rampling’s face as she goes about her modest life, an anonymous little woman, for once that patrician face unremarkable, smart and tidy but nor chic, using a public transport system nightmarish in its vast impersonality. Brussels’ streets and Hannah’s dull cramped apartment are an undistinguished backdrop, echoing her ordinariness, as far away as you could imagine from most of the locations of this year’s set of Italian films, where even darkness is thrilling. Touching her face and searching her image in the mirror as if to remind herself she still exists, we feel as she does how her identity is fading, as one aspect of her life after another drops away. Her pleasure in her grandson when her son shuns her, her swimming sessions when her membership is revoked, her dog, pining for his absent master, and soon she herself is choosing to withdraw from what is still available, the acting sessions, where the intensity of her real distress is making her acting of them impossible. And soon, it appears, her job may go the same way. This cleaning and caring for a friendly well-heeled woman’s young son does feel a bit grafted on as it doesn’t seem quite to fit with the rest of her life, but it does give us chance to see her capability in a sociable setting. But on this too she walks out – to what? The metro rails may be tempting – but you feel her actual future is possibly worse – an endless and ever lonelier descent into the rest of her life.
It’s a grinding exercise in disintegration, a hard watch but never less than absorbing, as one empathises with this invisible elderly woman and fumes inwardly at the injustice of guilt by association, as felt by so many innocent families of criminals. And with its brilliant central performance and northern European palette and sensibilities, bound to do very well on the UK arthouse circuit.
FORTUNATA (directed by Sergio Castellitto)
Like Charlotte Rampling, Jasmine Trinca who plays the eponymous role in this film won a Best Actress award last year, in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes. Young, lively, and extrovert, there couldn’t be a greater contrast. Nor could there be between the films. Where Hannah is dark, concentrated, subtle, silent, Fortunata is bright, expansive, muddled, noisy. Despite Trinca’s enormous energy and range as the inappropriately named Fortunata, it remains a melodramatic and sometimes even shallow piece, a helter skelter story of a chirpy hairdresser with a troubled daughter, Barbara (Nicole Centanni), and a violent soon-to-be-ex who returns sporadically to cast a chill over the proceedings, as if from another, darker and even more melodramatic film.
Fortunata has dreams of owning a fancy salon in partnership with her neighbour, gay junkie tattoo artist and Joaquin Phoenix look-alike Chicano (Alessandro Borghi). When Barbara’s school avoidance means she has to attend therapy sessions with a charming and dishy psychiatrist, it’s signalled early on that at some point soonish Fortunata’s and his eyes will meet in a meaningful way. And sure enough they’re soon in one of those instant clinches that only happen in films. More trouble. Meanwhile Chicano has even more preoccupations in the form of his dementia-troubled mother (astonishingly, Hannah Schygulla) who wonders around talking of her past acting glories and referencing Antigone, for some reason I failed to grasp. Still, Schygulla is eminently watchable and magical as ever on the screen. Visually it’s gorgeous, thanks to Gian Filippo Corticelli’s cinematography, who gets the best out of sunny Rome and the beautiful, whirlwind star. But over-enthusiasm to cram in too much giddy life and too many clichéed situations and characters, and over-use of pop music to point our feelings in the necessary direction, undermines the supposed purpose of being a serious, while entertaining, portrayal of a lively and ultimately undefeated working class woman, impressive though Jasmine Trinca’s range and energy is.