Charlotte Rampling’s performance in Hannah will bring tears to the eyes

Plus violent Polish mafia blockbuster Kobiety Mafii 2.

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The secrets in Charlotte Rampling’s perpetually disappointed face are inexhaustible. Who could tire of studying like a map her infinitely creased skin, or marvelling at that pitiless gaze and those cowl-like eyelids? Every performance amounts to a perfect little aria of solitude, and anyone working with her needs to be aware of two possible pitfalls: trying to explain her mysteries, or depending on them to do all the work. The Italian writer-director Andrea Pallaoro makes both mistakes in Hannah, in which Rampling plays the title character. He gives her lines such as “I have to be alone to see clearly inside myself” – an obvious case of gilding the lily, or cramping the Rampling. But he also relies heavily on her naturally enigmatic qualities to lend weight to his undernourished ideas.

It’s unfortunate that Hannah resembles closely the superior Under the Sand, in which Rampling played a woman falling apart after her husband’s disappearance. Now she is a woman falling apart after her husband’s imprisonment. She works in a Belgian city as a cleaner. She attends drama classes. She dutifully visits her spouse, despite his apparent guilt (unspecified offences against children are hinted at). Mostly, though, she sits and stares. The cinematographer Chayse Irvin, who shot BlacKkKlansman, finds unusual ways to frame her face – smudged by the glass of a shower cubicle, distorted through a fish tank or trapped behind a window in a snowstorm.

Though Hannah is mostly mute, Pallaoro turns her surroundings into a running commentary on her condition. A busker plays Bowie’s “Modern Love”; a woman arguing with her boyfriend seems to express the sentiments that Hannah cannot (“I did everything for you! What am I doing here?”). There is a symbolically beached whale, and a symbolic family dog waiting patiently for Hannah’s husband. She even lies down with it in front of the door as though she, too, is pining for her master. It’s a bit rum to make a sophisticated performer go through the motions in this way, though no one would begrudge Rampling the Best Actress prize she won at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, if only for the upsetting scene in which she breaks down after a brutal rejection. All these years on from Juliet Stevenson in Truly, Madly, Deeply, cinema finally has a new benchmark for the agonisingly realistic crying jag.

Kobiety Mafii 2 will bring tears to the eyes for different reasons. This Polish crime blockbuster revolves around a Colombian drug-trafficking plot (“The Poles want cocaine and we’ll give it to them!”) and interweaves the stories of a ditsy Mafia widow who becomes a media superstar, a gangster’s daughter turned high-speed-car thief (“I like hot rides”) and other criminal women. Its flippancy and callousness is genuinely shocking: in the first thirty minutes, a thug is tortured with a hot poker before being decapitated and spat on, and a man discovers his wife has been murdered only when someone hands him her ashes while he’s playing with his child (“Condolences”). Alongside broad comedy about “dumb” blondes and gangsters with Tourette’s, with no allowances made for these jarring tonal shifts, it feels positively unconscionable.

You can choose to miss it but you can’t dismiss it: the original Kobiety Mafii (it means “Women of Mafia”) raked in almost £900,000 in the UK alone, where Polish films, like Bollywood, regularly dent the box-office charts without English-language publicity, and it trounced every Marvel movie back home. The director Patryk Vega is a one-man powerhouse of Polish cinema, and the hefty budget of Kobiety Mafii 2 reflects his popularity. The cinematography has a covetous gloss halfway between a Bond film and a travelogue, while the score is an unvarying electronic pulse of the kind heard in late-night TV ads for party lines.

Vega appears also to have a fetish for surgical footage. His earlier hit Botoks was saturated in gore, and there’s more here in a needless organ-trafficking subplot. The absence of a moral component, or some indication that what we’re seeing isn’t meant to be titillating, renders the film about as enjoyable as surgery without anaesthetic. 

Hannah (12A) dir: Andrea Pallaoro
Kobiety Mafii 2 (18) dir: Patryk Vega

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.

This article appears in the 01 March 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit broke politics