The essential lesson of ‘Hannah Free’ couldn’t be timelier.
by Nancy Ford
The word “Hannah” is a palindrome. It’s the same, backward and forward, any way you look at it. So is Hannah Free, a strong, bold, butch, take-me-as-I-am lesbian who grows up and grows old in rural mid-20th-century Michigan with her “best friend,” Rachel.
Hannah’s constant is that she is full of daring, wanderlust, and bravado, traveling on a whim to points as far-flung as Alaska and South America. Though her decisions are now limited to elevating and lowering her automatic bed in a last-stop extended-care facility, the indignity of her dependence has not stemmed Hannah’s proud, free spirit. A woman’s woman, Hannah even continues to get her flirt on with a young lesbian visiting the hospital (who, as it turns out, is more than just a visitor).
Never venturing beyond her home-state line, Rachel’s feet are planted firmly in reality. She married and buried and bore children, but her constant is her love for Hannah. She now lingers in a coma in another wing of that same hospital.
A favorite on the queer film festival circuit, Hannah Free won 2009’s Best Narrative Feature Film honor at Austin’s Gay & Lesbian Independent Film Festival. The film treats serious themes about self-acceptance and what it means to be out (which does not always require parading down the street on a float) with wit, warmth, accuracy, and sensitivity.
Sharon Gless is at her considerable best playing the title role of the adult and aged Hannah to the skillful Maureen Gallagher’s long-suffering Rachel. And though its overall character exposition is occasionally a bit heavy-handed, the film’s portrayal of the precariousness of same-sex couples having to rely on the sympathy of potentially unsympathetic medical staff in times of crisis is a story that has needed telling for a long, long time. It sheds timely light on President Barack Obama’s April 15 memo instructing hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid to treat gay families with the same respect as straight families, legally erasing the possibility of deathbed discrimination.
It’s only right. Because after all, in the end, aren’t all families the same, backward and forward, any way you look at them?
Wendy Jo Carlton directs Claudia Allen’s adapted screenplay, with music contributed by Houston Women’s Music Festival veteran Vicci Martinez. From Wolfe (wolfevideo.com) on June 1.
The Girl on the Train (La fille du RER)
The legendary, still-luscious French actress Catherine Deneuve stars in this taut drama that reveals the extremes that a mother must endure to support her daughter (Emilie Dequenne). Andre Techine, who is openly gay, directs. French with English subtitles. 2009. Strand Releasing Home Entertainment (strand releasing.com).
The London underground crime scene provides the backdrop for this tense, erotic thriller focusing on love, forgiveness, and overcoming violence. In it, a young lawyer falls for a hit woman who works for the thug she is about to prosecute. Tim Biddiscombe directs. 2007. TLA Releasing (tlareleasing.com).
Raymond (Danny Parsons) and Tagbo (Damola Adelaja) were inseparable as boyhood friends until life’s circumstances tore them apart. When they reconnect as adults, they find that the love that has endured throughout the years may not be enough to carry them forward. Adaora Nwandu directs. June 20. 2006. Ariztical Entertainment (ariztical.com).
Showgirls: 15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition
It’s like driving past a bad accident: we don’t want to look, but we must. Elizabeth Berkley stars as self-esteemless Nomi (“no me”—get it?) in the Blu-Ray version of Paul Verhoeven’s controversial camp classic. Includes the bonus feature “Pole Dancing: Finding Your Inner Stripper,” a lap-dance tutorial, and more. June 15. MGM Home Entertainment (mgm.com).
Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road
The 20th century counter-culture icon and author (Naked Lunch, The Last Trilogy) who was openly gay before it was cool traveled through Scandinavia for a series of personal appearances. These recently discovered lectures from 1983 reveal Burroughs’ extraordinary ability to firmly enthrall his audience, regardless of language barriers. Lars Movin and Steen Møller Rasmussen direct. 2007. Microcinema International (microcinema.com).
9 to 5: Days in Porn
Dolly Parton does not—repeat, does not—appear in this uncut, uncensored, unrated peek into the pornography industry. Ten adult-film-industry professionals share their good, bad, and ugly tales revealing the reality of the business. Jens Hoffmann directs. 2008. Strand Releasing Home Entertainment (strandreleasing.com).