Hannah comes home to her apartment building one day to discover a woman waiting in front of it. The woman says she’s waiting for one of Hannah’s neighbors — Becky Sharp, she says — who has invited her over but seems to be flaking out on her. Hannah is polite but wary and leaves the stranger outside to wait.
But when the stranger’s friend fails to show, leaving her waiting outside, Hannah invites her into her home and charge her phone. The stranger reveals her name is Hannah as well, as makes herself at home in the apartment, often to the other Hannah’s discomfort. The result is a strange oddly encounter between two women that fills the need for connection for both of them, albeit in an uneasy way.
Written and directed by India Donaldson, this short drama is an unsettling, fascinating character study of two women who seemingly drop into one another’s lives and share a resonant but uncanny connection. In many ways, it has the approach of a “slice of life” drama, concerned with the daily moments of ordinary lives made poetic by the film’s attention and focus. But it also has the suggestive power of something more significant happening underneath the surface.
In many ways, its storytelling harkens back to the 1970s Hollywood, a particularly unique time in cinematic history where the studio system was breaking down and commercial filmmakers experimented with personal stories that were often eccentric and unusual in both form and content. The short shares thematic similarities with a film like Robert Altman’s dreamlike “3 Women,” from 1977, which also examined the strange relationship between a pair of women.
The writing here is much more focused, concentrated and economical — its scope is limited to a day and evening in one apartment building — but like the Altman film, it’s also dreamy in style, shot on 16mm that offers both timelessness and sensuous texture to the image that feels nostalgic.
The story is almost mystically indeterminate in how it raises narrative questions, only to never quite answer them. It uses that sense of incompleteness to gesture at the inner yearnings and emptiness of both Hannahs — one with an absent sister and one with a missing friend — and teases at how these inner fissures form a connection that both women seem compelled by but don’t fully understand.
Actor Amy Zimmer plays her Hannah with a mixture of aggressive openness and a wary canniness, with a hidden agenda that pushes and pulls against itself as she gains entrance into Hannah’s apartment. Is she a con artist? Is she for real? The storytelling creates a degree of tension, and when we’re not sure if Zimmer’s Hannah has a more nefarious plot in mind. By contrast, actor Brenna Palughi plays her Hannah with a more composed guardedness and reserve, but when she drops her guard and offers a moment of vulnerability and revelation, she creates an opening for the wilier Hannah.
“Hannahs” ends in a degree of ambiguity in many ways, and we’re still not entirely sure just who these Hannahs are. But they do exchange a genuine moment before the end — of not exactly openness, but of honesty. The encounter brings to light what was missing and unconscious to the surface, leaving them changed permanently, despite passing through each other lives.