Politics and romance jostle, sidetracking 'Hanna K'
Partly by default, Costa-Gavras is the world's leading political filmmaker. His style can be slick and calculated, but he has the nerve to tackle complex and controversial subjects that would scare most directors away. Such hits as ''Z'' and the recent ''Missing'' show his skill at probing hard issues in a popular context.Skip to next paragraph
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His new drama, Hanna K., plunges again into delicate territory. The heroine (Jill Clayburgh) is an American transplanted to Israel, where she has become a lawyer. Though not a crusader, she takes on the defense of a young Arab charged with sneaking repeatedly into Israeli territory. The authorities say he's a terrorist. He claims he only wants to return to his native home, which has been confiscated by the government.
It's a snarled situation, and the lawyer's personal life is even more so. She is pregnant by her former lover, the district attorney who's now prosecuting the case she's working on. Also on the scene is her husband, a soft-spoken Frenchman she's long been separated from and who wants only to help her.
The film thus has three layers of story and meaning, based on three aspects - personal, professional, and political - of Hanna K.'s life. They become more intertwined as they develop, especially after Hanna's baby is born. Indeed, the baby becomes a living symbol of tangled Mideast relations: Its biological father is Israeli, its legal father is European, and the man who actually cares for it is the Palestinian whom Hanna defends in court. (The infant's Jewishness is underlined, however, by the clinical portrayal of its ceremonial circumcision.)
In a conversation the other day, Costa-Gavras told me he began ''Hanna K.'' with the idea of exploring Middle East issues, then got sidetracked by the subject of female independence. Only later did he get the notion of combining both subjects into one movie, which may explain why the story seems contrived at times.
The filmmaker also said he considers the personal dimension of the plot - Hanna's struggle to find her own identity as a woman, a lawyer, and a citizen - just as important as the legal and international issues that loom over the picture. This concern for basic human values is admirable, but Costa-Gavras might have served it better in a movie of its own. For all its good intentions, ''Hanna K.'' can't seem to decide whether it's a sweeping political allegory or an intimate romantic fable. Ultimately, it becomes a new genre I'm not sure we need: history as soap opera.
As a production, ''Hanna K.'' is less accomplished than ''Missing,'' the previous Costa-Gavras film. Jill Clayburgh brings more sincerity than subtlety to the title role, though she has a few telling scenes. The supporting cast is doggedly international, which adds color to the show, but gets distracting at times. The screenplay by Franco Solinas and photography by Ricardo Aronovich are adequate. The picture was shot largely on location in Israel, where - according to producer Michele Ray-Gavras - the authorities were thoroughly cooperative with the project. College reunion
In a bit of witty titling, Lawrence Kasdan has followed his suspenseful ''Body Heat'' with a moody comedy called The Big Chill. And a chilly picture it is, despite its drift toward vulnerable characters and humorous dialogue.