How do you work with an actress like Charlotte Rampling? Andrea Pallaoro (1982) wrote Hannah, about a woman who represses a family secret, especially for Rampling and was inevitably influenced by her private life.
Was it always clear Hannah would be played by Charlotte Rampling (1946)?
“I cowrote the movie for her, together with my writing partner Orlando Tirado. That Charlotte Rampling had to play Hannah, I knew before I even wrote the first word. It is a role entirely tailored for her. Without knowing if she would accept the role. So when I flew to Paris to meet her, I was so emotional, and excited, and, you know, afraid... But that was an unforgettable meeting.”
So, why Rampling?
“The first time I saw her was on the big screen, in a film by Luchino Visconti, The Damned. I was maybe fifteen, and I immediately fell in love with her. From that moment on, I followed her performances, dreaming of one day working with her. And this character, I thought, could fit her potential as an actress.”
“I wanted to let the audience experience the state of mind of Hannah, both psychologically and emotionally.” – Andrea Pallaoro on his film Hannah
She was very young, when she starred in The Damned (1969). But Visconti told her: ‘Trust me. You are any age.’ Now that she’s older, do you find she still has a youthful side?
“There is a playfulness about her, and a remarkable energy, and curiosity for life, that is most often connected to youth, yeah. It makes her a very dynamic, and really fascinating, courageous, and generous artist.”
The description that is most often used for Rampling is ‘mysterious’. Hannah is not the first time she plays a woman with a secret.
“She has the incredible gift of less is more. She internalizes such a vast range of emotions, and then takes us along in very subtle ways. There is this fascinating dichotomy when you watch her. She can be both very intimate, and very distant. And that pull is incredibly engaging. It keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. So yes, she’s absolutely mysterious.”
Your story is mysterious as well. When she enters the prison with her husband, at first I thought they were visiting. Then, she goes home alone. There are many other situations in Hannah of which the meaning only becomes clear later.
“I wanted to let the audience experience the state of mind of Hannah, both psychologically and emotionally. And she is a woman in denial, a woman who doesn’t know what’s true, who doesn’t know what to believe. I wanted the audience to be as close to that as possible, without me explaining everything for them. A more traditional cause and effect structure would only be a distraction. The ultimate catharsis cinema has to offer, comes from the opportunity to project yourself upon the character and the story, as intimately and individually as possible. So you can see yourself. And possibly find out things about yourself that you didn’t know.”
You run the risk people will get frustrated.
“I think frustration is crucial though! When you’re uncomfortable, you’ll want to figure things out for yourself. You’re much more engaged, actively, instead of passively. So, a lot of things are in the film, not to be understood intellectually, but to be felt, you know? Like feeling that state of mind. That, I think, is the best key into the film.”
In Hannah, you have put Charlotte Rampling in an acting class. That’s almost sacrilegious!
“Ha ha, yes! But it was important we see this woman, completely controlled, but needing to express herself. This kind of amateur acting class allows her to express herself – or strive to express herself – in a safe environment. Because in the real world, she is unable to do that.”
The fact that Hannah, repressing a family secret, indirectly expresses her emotions through acting, inevitably made me think of Charlotte Rampling’s personal drama: the suicide of her sister, which she has kept secret from her mother for decades. Since her mother died, she has spoken openly about how that influenced her acting.
“Yes, I recognize that as well. Those are things I am absolutely hypnotized by, in her. And I think we use that. It’s impossible not to, in her portrayal of this character.”
For director François Ozon, she again played people with repressed family secrets. In Swimming Pool, her character even had her sister’s name. Ozon said: ‘Because she is so mysterious, I wanted her to do very ordinary things, because they would automatically become interesting.’ You do something similar.
“That’s right. I have her clean, take care of the plants. She wants to remove stains, fix things, make them pure. I think that once it’s established that her husband is in prison and she’s in denial, watching her go through her daily tasks becomes absolutely captivating and hypnotic. Because those actions contain the key to understanding her state of mind.”
Rampling once said: ‘I don’t act, I play myself.’
“I think what she’s trying to say there, is she’s trying to connect to the feelings that she experienced in her life. It’s not about faking, it’s about remembering. It’s not about acting, but about being. And that is exactly the type of performance I was looking for.”
Hannah was shown at the IFFR and will screen in Dutch cinemas from 22 February 2018.
Photo in header: Still: Hannah | Interview: Kees Driessen