by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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Hannah Free echoes one of the latest initiatives by President Barack Obama that allows same-sex couples to make end of life health care decisions for one another. Obama ordered hospitals around the country to honor patients’ wishes about who may visit their sickbeds or risk losing Medicaid and Medicare money.
In Hannah Free, Sharon Gless plays a lesbian who has been involved in a lifelong love affair with her childhood friend Rachel, played by Maureen Gallagher. At the end of their lives, Rachel’s family tries to keep Hannah from seeing Rachel as she slumbers on life support in the same nursing home as Hannah. Hannah’s free spirit in their relationship paled next to Rachel’s boring existence. While Hannah traveled all over the world, Rachel was content to remain in Ohio all her life; even marrying at one point and having twins. It seems that Rachel sometimes resented the free life that Hannah was experiencing, but she was too timid to venture out on her own.
The movie sweetly details the relationship between the two, even as young girls, with Hannah approaching Rachel in an intimate manner as they played, while Rachel initially resists because she goes to church and is a Christian. Of course, traditional gender expectations eventually challenge their deep love for one another; Hannah becomes outward and unapologetic, while Rachel attempts to raise her children, after her husband passes.
Weaving between past and present, Hannah Free reveals how these two passionate women maintain their love affair, despite a marriage, a world war, infidelity and family denial.The movie shows Hannah as a strong woman who doesn’t take much from anyone and who is as persistent in her quest to see Rachel as she’s dying as she was to have a normal relationship with the woman who is her best friend in the world.
In the end, Rachel’s great granddaughter helps sneak Hannah into her room late at night to watch her. It’s painful to see Hannah take all the “death” in, as she and Rachel had been so alive in the flashbacks that retell their story.
Hannah Free has screened at more than 60 film festivals in North America, including San Francisco’s Frameline Fest and Los Angeles’s OUTFEST, and has won multiple prestigious awards, including Best Feature Film at Philadelphia’s Q-Fest. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times calls this “A terrific role for Sharon Gless, who runs with it gloriously.”
Hannah Free will be available on DVD June 1 and comes loaded with features, including interviews with Gless, writer Claudia Allen, director Wendy Jo Carlton and the cast and crew; bloopers; Behind the Scenes featurette, a WTTW-Television Chicago Tonight segment and more. For more information, visit Web site www.wolfevideo.or or call 1-800-GET-WOLFE.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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