Hannah, the film by Andrea Pallaoro, the fourth Italian competing in the Venice Film festival, is an existential mystery. The film is a mysterious, even reticent, object. There are few words, and only one  character, the woman in the title, a middle-aged woman who, after having accompanied her husband to jail, precipitates into an abyss of solitude, interrupted only by small every-day events and recurring habits: the acting course she attends onece a week, the swimming pool where she swims, the villa she cleans and the disabled boy she cares there. Clues are disseminated throughout the narration (the finding of an envelope containing photographs, her mother insulting her from behind a closed door) and the spectator starts to guess that an unspeakable burden of guilt weighs on the family, leading to the removal of her son and nephew. Everything revolves around the character of Hannah, played by Charlotte Rampling, a cinema-body who needs few words to exist on screen: the actress herself defines the role ad “magnificent”. The film is produced by Andrea Stucovitz in a co-production between Italy, France and Belgium, with Rai Cinema. Hannah will be distributed by I Wonder Pictures. It’s the second work by this director, born in Trento, with an American education, he is the author of the debut work Medeas, presented in Venice in the Orizzonti section in 2013. 

The film jealously saviors the mystery surrounding Hannah’s character, to the point that it can be defines as an existential mystery. Why did you choose to not explain more to the spectator?
I find the definition of existential mystery convincing. This is a film on the mental state of the character. It explores the inner drama of a woman trapped in her choices, paralyzed by dependency. I wanted to give precedence to Hannah’s inner being, without conceding to narrative distractions that are often superfluous. I wanted the spectator to feel like her. I am attracted to a kind of cinema that doesn’t tell the spectator what to think, but lets him or her take an independent path, in order to be reflected by the character and perhaps even question him or her self. 

The film portrays the boundaries between individual and couple choices.

I love to explore the boundaries of individual and social identities, for example a couple’s. What happens to a person’s psychology when after forty years of sharing a life with her husband, she discovers things that overturn everything, how does one deal with things in such cases?

The initial title was The Whale, with reference to the run aground whale that Hannah goes to look at on a beach. This is an element that strongly symbolizes her condition.
I loved that title; but I realized that it could have suggested an excessively intellectual interpretation. I wanted the spectator to enter the story in an emotional state, and the encounter with the whale was not supposed to bare too much weight of the film’s general economy. And also Hannah is the first chapter of a trilogy dedicated to female characters, the second chapter will be called Monica, and the third is still being invented. 

Can you tell us more about the second chapter of the trilogy?
Monica is based on the observation of a transsexual person who returns to the maternal home following 35 years of absence to take care of her mother who is dying and has Alzheimer’s. The mother is the one who kicked him out as a child. The film is set in the United States and the lead role is played by a transgender actor. 

What were the cinema references for your work?
Three films specifically guided us, me and Charlotte: Deserto rosso by Antonioni, The Headless Woman by Lucrecia Martel and Jeanne Dielman by Chantal Akerman. They explore the inner struggles of female characters with a rigorous and visionary language. Other authors I admire are Fassbinder, Reygadas and Tsai Ming-liang.

What about young Italian authors?
Michelangelo Frammartino fascinated me a lot, and I consider Le quattro volte as a masterpiece.

The film would have no meaning without Charlotte Rampling. 
The script was written for her from the first word. I saw her in La caduta degli dei by Visconti, and I fell in love with her then. Her eyes stabbed me, I have always dreamed of working with her one day. I sent her the script for Hannah and the dvd of my previous film, Medeas, and after a few days she answered and accepted to meet me. I went to Paris and a dialogue and a friendship began, an artistic collaboration, because three year passed before we could shoot the film. She tough me a lot, because she is an artist who digs deep in her inner being and tries to get to the truth with remarkable courage. 

Why is the film set in Belgium?
Initially because of production reasons. I had written the film with the United States in mind, but I had to readapt the story in Brussels, which actually was a much more appropriate choice for the sense of alienation, the different languages spoken in the city, its greyness. 

Why did you choose to shoot in 35 mm?
To achieve a kind of cinema as sensorial as possible. Film is more physical than digital. 

How did you prepare for the film, were there many rehearsals, like with a theatrical piece?
Not very many. We knew each other by then and we had developed a relationship of reciprocal trust. 

How did you build Hannah’s relation with her surroundings?
I looked for a cinematographic language that might reflect the sense of disorientation and confusion that Hannah feels, I wanted to explore the internal and external boundaries, this is why there are often windows, doors, and other frames. There is a veiled erotic element in the film because I wanted to excite the spectator’s imagination, instead of displaying it. My cinema aims at a catharsis. 

Despite the awards and the critics’ appraisal, Medeas never reached the cinemas. While Hannah will be distributed. How do you explain this ‘commercial’ passage?
I am ready to share this film with the rest of the world and happy to have Charlotte by my side. I am proud of our work, but now it’s up to the spectators to decide what to do with it.