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Thursday, January 21, 2010


Looking like a taboo-smashing relic from the late 60s but actually shot in 1984, the French-Italian co-production HANNA D.: THE GIRL FROM VONDEL PARK is an artsy exploitation flick with one foot in the sublime and the other knee-deep in the ridiculous.

Although twenty years old when she starred as Hanna, French actress Ann-Gisel Glass is playing sixteen and looks like thirteen. Writer-director Rino Di Silvestro (WEREWOLF WOMAN, WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 7) chose her for her angelic looks so that her descent into porn, prostitution, and drug addiction would be more affecting, and indeed she alternates between brief flashes of little-girl innocence and a deer-in-the-headlights emotional withdrawal from the reality of her downward spiral. But when she's in a train compartment with an older gentleman who has paid to watch her slowly slither out of her schoolgirl uniform, there's a deliberate, knowing seductiveness in her eyes that's anything but innocent.

That's the first scene in the film, and it's beautifully shot and edited with a simple but haunting musical theme, and neither the film nor Glass' performance will be this hypnotic again. But it won't be Di Silvestro's last stylistic flourish--minutes later, Hanna encounters her mother's latest young lover Hans (who has the hots for Hanna) on the stairway to their apartment, and in an exquisitely-staged moment offers him a peek up her skirt through the steps before sticking her tongue out at him and scampering away. (Even a later scene in which Hans sneaks into Hanna's bedroom and ogles her as she sleeps creates its own perverse enchantment.)

This leads to the first clash between Hanna and her resentful, alcoholic mother (Karin Schubert), who depends on Hanna's illicit income to keep her in booze. Schubert plays the role of the wilted flower to the ditzy hilt and their scenes together evoke a giddy hilarity that's made more so by Glass' clumsy emoting and the film's horrible dubbing ("Don't you touch me! Or else I will spit in your face!" Mom warns Hans during one of their many spats).

When she isn't hooking for cash, Hanna wanders in a daze through condemned buildings where people are shooting up in every filthy room (a glimpse of her own future) and shares drugs with her equally lost friend Jeanette. It's here that she runs afoul of some prostitutes by horning in on their territory (more awful dubbing includes the lines "Tell her to go cool it!" and "You'd better beat it forever!") and makes her escape on the back of a motorcycle driven by the darkly-handsome Miguel (Tony Serrano).

This unscrupulous opportunist wins her over with his sleazy charm and soon puts her to work making money for him in the sex trade while introducing her to the needle, hastening her eventual ruin. Before long, Hanna is shooting up via her arms, scalp, tongue, and eyelids in an increasingly disturbing series of images and finally hits bottom in a reformatory. Her only hope comes in the form of Axel (Sebastiano Somma), a dashing young man who falls madly in love with her and risks his life against Miguel and his thugs in an attempt to pull Hanna out of the pit.

The DVD from Severin Films is in 1.85:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 English mono, and the print quality is very good. Extras include a trailer and a 42-minute interview with Rino Di Silvestro which offers some fascinating insights into his creative processes and filmmaking philosophies. ("Cinema is suffering and I used to transmit this distress to the crew," he reveals.) Listening to him speak at length about the film actually increased my appreciation of it on second viewing.

Filmed on a low budget and a tight schedule in Amsterdam and Italy, HANNA D.: THE GIRL FROM VONDEL PARK is Rino Di Silvestro's update of the old cautionary films such as REEFER MADNESS which warned society of certain tragic realities while wallowing in their inherent exploitation potential. Thus, Hanna's sad tale is packed with more nudity and softcore sex scenes than you can shake your stick at, while offering up plenty of gratuitous drug-related degredation as well. Add to this Silvestro's knack for the occasional display of dazzling style and some of the most unintentionally funny acting and dialogue this side of MST3K (again, due mainly to the dubbing), and you've got a pretty good recipe for entertainment. Di Silvestro's staging and editing tend to look increasingly slapdash as the film draws to its hyperventilating climax, and the more he expects of his star the less she's able to give. Nevertheless, she's always interesting to watch.

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