Saturday, August 13, 2011

MIFFdrawal session 5: Hanna

A hunter's cottage deep in the snowy woods. The hunter spends the long winter nights teaching his daughter, Hanna, about the world. One night she interrupts him with the words: I'm ready. He stops, looks to one side in thought. The next day he goes into the woods and carefully paces a location. He digs and retrieves something very contemporary which he places on the cottage table when he returns. When Hanna asks what it is he replies that it's a tracking device that will tell Marissa where they are and their world will change. Hanna flips the switch. Then it's out the back for weapons training.

Dad cleans up to look more like Eric Bana than he did as a hairy hunter and makes his way toward their planned rendezvous in Berlin. Big military choppers swarm down on the cottage. The first assault ends in silence. A second team bash in to find the first few slaughtered on the floor. A slight blonde snow maiden looks down at them with a disturbing passivity.

Ok, so far that's a hunter and his daughter, a magic device and the powers of a wicked witch. Why is this any more than a fairy tale with assault weapons? Why the hell would you want it to be?

The themes here are genetic modification, wicked witchery, fathers keeping secrets and a babe out of the woods, pure of heart and powerful because of it. Magic and mayhem. But this film has sustained a lot of hate. A lot of paid critics I've read on this one complain about the heavy hand and others (like the ones on imdb) talk about plot holes.

To the first charge all I can say is that the references to Grimms fairy tales, however large they may be writ, work. Yes, I get Cate's witch emerging from the mouth of a huge wooden wolf, but I suspect I'm meant to get it. It's not failed cleverness, it's the film doing it's job. Fairy tales aren't just about princesses, witches and magic they are about strangers and dangers. The thing that I think looks hamfisted to some critics here is the film going beyond use of fairytale iconography for its premise and continuing to become a fairytale itself. Its constant mashup of naivete and worldly gravity (strongest at the Grimm-themed funpark and with the liberal English family Hanna hitches with) serves this end with no necessity to break free of the paradigm. Freeway is a film that does something very similar and, while having plenty of merits, it doesn't succeed to my mind half as well as Hanna.

Second, there is a good deal of inconsistency here, particularly in Hanna's skill set. Why does she freak out at the electricity in the hotel room when she's already experienced a truckload of it at the CIA base? How does she develop sudden skills with internet searching right at the moment when a quick Google would solve a lot of problems? Bumps. One imdb reviewer (I read them first as they are speaking through the experience of paying for the tickets and popcorn) found about eleven major voids in the plot of Hanna which, in his mounting anger, he tabled as evidence of narrative death. I can honestly say that I read all of them, considered them, agreed with most of his points, and didn't remember caring about any of them as I watched the movie. The poster's anger at these resembled that of any other critique of a mainstream film's narrative strength: it's as though they'd thought they were seeing a documentary whose unscrupulous creators delighted in nothing better than deceiving their audiences. Hanna is not only a fiction, it's a hyper-fiction, a story about stories, a fairytale about fairytales. It's really, really not going to be able to stand a lot of scrutiny.

I actually wasn't expecting to like this film. I'd read a lot of negative responses (mostly along the lines of the above paragraph) and others about it suffering from a surfeit of quirk. I'm the first to break out in hives at quirky indulgence on the cinema screen but made it through the screening with skin as smooth as it was while the ad slides were on. Instead, I found a very lean film that did more than its job by doing it with wit and style. Great end to a fun holiday.

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