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Blu-ray Review: Hannah and Her Sisters

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Woody Allen’s 1986 film Hannah and Her Sisters peels back the layers of the relationship among three sisters, exposing complexities not apparent on the surface. Now on Blu-ray, the film still resonates with its universal themes of love, loyalty, trust, and family discord. Allen explores these complex issues with humor and honesty. The film is as entertaining as it is revealing about the human condition. Hannah and Her Sisters still stands as one of Allen’s best films.

Hannah (Mia Farrow) is the oldest of three sisters who are all struggling with their relationships and careers in some way. On the surface Hannah seems to have the most on the ball. She’s happily married to Elliot (Michael Caine), an accountant for the rich and famous. She is also semi-retired from a successful acting career so she could focus on raising her children. That is what’s on the surface at least. One of the great things about this film are the revelations that come after the characters are introduced. It’s like peeking into the private life of a co-worker or an acquaintance. Sometimes it’s surprising what lies beneath the surface of even perfect-seeming lives.

Hannah’s life is actually far from perfect. Her husband is infatuated with her younger sister Lee (Barbara Hershey) to the point of not being able to contain himself. Lee is in an unsatisfying relationship with her recluse artist boyfriend Frederick (Max von Sydow). Herein Allen presents a somewhat disturbing motif of men being attracted to women in part due to their neediness. Elliot doesn’t feel the independent Hannah needs him to take care of her, therefore he turns his affections toward the emotionally distraught Lee. Lee and Frederick are on the outs because their entire relationship was based on Frederick imparting his knowledge on the more naïve Lee. Now that she has become more mature and self-confident, their relationship is falling apart.

The youngest sister Holly (Diane Wiest) rounds out the trio. Her life is the biggest mess. She flits from one career aspiration to another without really trying hard at any. She begins a catering business, which everyone seems to think is the perfect fit for her, but allows it to crumble after a disagreement with her business partner April (Carrie Fisher). She flirts with acting and writing, but can’t seem to settle on anything. Her personal life is in just as much disarray. She turns off potential suitors with her over-the-top conversation and occasional drug use. The thing about her character is that nothing is hidden. She is openly a mess. It’s a good contrast with her sisters, whose lives are a façade of high-class parties and intellectual conversation that avoids the real issues.

The film, however, is not as heavy as it sounds. As I noted earlier these serious topics are treated with a note of levity. The characters find themselves in awkward, albeit very relatable, situations where one can’t help but chuckle at their predicament. Woody Allen himself provides some great comic relief as Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey. Mickey is a hypochondriac television producer who suddenly finds himself faced with a very real potential medical issue. Daniel Stern also shows up in a very funny small role as an egotistic rock star looking to buy one of Frederick’s paintings.

The Blu-ray is presented in a 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The visual presentation is an improvement over the previous DVD release. The image is sharper and much more detailed. The fine detail of the New York City architecture, so prominently featured in the film, looks breathtaking on this Blu-ray. The colors are vivid in a subdued way and always realistic. The textured oil paint of Frederick’s work pops off the screen. The picture is inherently grainy, but this is in line with the look of the original theatrical release.

The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono mix. There is not a lot to say about the sound other than the fidelity is of high quality. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, even during the many scenes with multiple characters talking at once (such as at Mickey’s TV studio). The song score of jazz standards is well integrated, usually staying low in the mix except for key repeating tunes such as “You Made Me Love You.” As per usual with vintage Woody Allen films, there are no special features save for the theatrical trailer.

Overall, Hannah and Her Sisters is one of Allen’s most emotionally involving films. The insights on life in general feel real, but are not heavy-handed. The performances are excellent. The characters are well-rounded and realistic. My one caveat is the slightly too pat ending, but it had to end somehow, so it’s entirely forgivable.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.