Hänsel, Marion 1949-
Hänsel, Marion 1949-
Office—Man's Films, 65 Avenue Mostinck, Brussels, Belgium 1150.
Screenwriter, director, producer, and actor. Man's Films (movie production company), founder. Producer of films, including Science Fiction, Man's Films, 2002; Twenty-five degrés en hiver, Man's Films, 2004; and L'Enfer, Man's Films, 2005. Actor in films, including Palaver, Ministerie van Nederlandse Kultuur, 1969; Alut en de kost, Ministerie van Nederlandse Kultuur, 1974; Berthe, Gamma Films, 1976; Les Anneaux de bicetre (television film), 1977; Histoires de voyous: La belle affaire (television movie), 1979; Mauvaises réponses, 1985; and Science Fiction, Man's Films, 2002. Has worked as a circus performer and mime artist.
Silver Lion, Venice International Film Festival, 1985, for Dust; Belgian Woman of the Year distinction, 1987; Joseph Plateau Award for Contribution to Belgian Film Abroad, 1987; Crystal Globe award, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 1992, for Sur la terre comme au ciel; Best Belgian Film, Special Mention from Brussels International Film Festival, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and special mention and Golden Palm nomination from Cannes Film Festival, and Golden Spike award from Valladolid International Film Festival, all 1995, all for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Grand Prix des Amériques, Montréal World Film Festival, 1998, for The Quarry; Joseph Plateau Award, Best Belgian Screenplay, 2005, for La Femme de Gilles.
(With Philippe Blasband and Frédéric Fonteyne) La Femme de Gilles (screenplay), 2004.
SCREENWRITER; AND DIRECTOR
Equilibres, Man's Films, 1977.
(And producer) Dust (adapted from the novel by J.M. Coetzee), Man's Films, 1985.
(And producer) Les noces barbares (also known as Cruel Embrace; adapted from the novel by Yann Queffelec), Man's Films, 1987.
Il Maestro (adapted from the novel by Mario Soldati), Man's Films, 1989.
(With Paul Le; and producer) Sur la terre comme au ciel (also known as Between Heaven and Earth), Man's Films, 1992.
(And producer) Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Man's Films, 1995.
(And producer) The Quarry (adapted from the novel by Damon Galgut), Man's Films, 1998.
(And producer) Clouds: Letters to My Son, Man's Films, 2001.
La femme de Gilles, 2004.
Screenwriter and director Marion Hänsel makes intricately detailed and deeply personal films that most often explore adult-child relationships. She primarily is concerned with the manner in which adults relate to (and learn from) children and, on the downside, the emotional dependence of a child—even one who has grown to adulthood—on even the most cruelly insensitive parent. Her films often are punctuated by lengthy shots and long silences, with cameras lingering on scenes and recording their details or slowly tracking across landscapes.
Hänsel's most characteristic films fit into two groupings: those that explore positive, hopeful adult-child connections (Between Heaven and Earth and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea) and those that explore tumultuous relationships between parent and offspring (Dust and Cruel Embrace). Between Heaven and Earth is the story of Maria, a high-powered and unmarried television journalist who has devoted herself to her career and ignored the ticking of her biological clock. After an erotic encounter in a stalled elevator, Maria finds herself pregnant. She feels she can effortlessly juggle motherhood and career, and so she decides to have the child. As her pregnancy progresses, Maria begins to question her decision to bring a human being into the world. While completing some jobrelated research, she watches a videotape of emaciated children. She covers a bomb blast at a university and is jarred by the sight of terrorized young people and how this place of learning—where her child just might be in twenty years—can be rocked by violence and death. She also comes in touch with the more general issue of how mankind is mistreating the environment and is no longer in harmony with nature.
The most telling relationship in Between Heaven and Earth involves Maria and Jeremy, a little boy whose parents recently moved into her apartment building. The adults are never around (and are not seen on camera), and Maria observes Jeremy's resentment over his situation. Maria and Jeremy bond and, despite his youth, he takes on the role of her teacher. She feels that she can leave her baby at a nursery, but he points out that maybe the baby would not want to be abandoned in such a way. Then Maria comes to believe that her fetus is communicating with her, and telling her that it does not want to be born into a world that is so hostile to children. After refusing an induced labor and endangering the life of the baby, Maria realizes that, despite the world's ills, giving birth is an affirmation, an act of faith. At the finale she has her baby, with whom she shares the kind of harmony she could not have comprehended scant months earlier.
Between Heaven and Earth is an intellectual film that New York Times reviewer Stephen Holden called a "philosophical cry from the heart." On one hand, science has allowed mankind to produce test-tube babies. Yet in a society in which adults are increasingly careeroriented and self-involved, there is no longer room for children.
The closeness and understanding that develops between Maria and Jeremy mirrors the primary relationship in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, which chronicles the passing friendship between Nikos, a rootless, opium-addicted sailor whose ship docks in Hong Kong, and Li, a bright ten-year-old who earns her living by cleaning the ships in the harbor. Li is an involuntary participant in a sampan subculture in which she is little more than an indentured servant. Yet despite her plight, her optimism has allowed her to preserve her innocence. Here, too, the adult learns from the child. When Nikos asks Li why she takes on responsibility, she responds, "That's what life is all about."
Between Heaven and Earth and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea stand in stark contrast to Dust and Cruel Embrace. Dust, which Hänsel dedicated to her father, is a psychological portrait of Magda. She lives with her father, who is nameless, in a remote region of South Africa, where they tend a small sheep farm. The film "has a handsome look that manages, in the manner of the great American westerns, to be both classical and wild," observed reviewer Janet in the New York Times. If the film's "stillness sometimes borders on the becalmed," Maslin continued, "it nonetheless has a stark, streamlined manner and an underlying urgency."
Magda's life is not so much one of isolation as frustration and regret. At the outset, she expresses her thoughts about how, over the years, she and her father have faced each other in silence. She craves his love and attention, yet her connection to him is strictly servile. In their first scene together he barks out her name. She promptly enters the room, offers him a drink, and removes his boots. Rather than leaving her father and going off to make her own life, Magda is living a self-imposed prison sentence with her father as her jailor—a situation that results in her growing psychological deterioration and a loosened grip on reality. Magda's situation worsens with the arrival of two young black servants: Hendrik, the farm's new foreman, and his wife, Anna. The lovely Anna infuses Magda's father with an energy belied by his previous lethargic interactions with Magda, and he pursues the shy servant with the complete and vigorous intent of seducing her. Hänsel's film hints at tensions, never resolved, between the powerful, handsome Hendrik and the frustrated, virginal Magda. Instead, Magda's psychological world shatters when her father finally seduces Anna. Magda cannot bear that her father is giving this young woman the attention—sexual or otherwise—that she covets, which drives her to an act of murder. Maslin concluded that the film is "artful and intelligent."
Cruel Embrace also depicts a less-than-idyllic parentchild relationship. It is the story of a boy named Ludovic, who is despised by Nicole, his emotionally tormented and alcoholic mother, because he was conceived when she was brutally raped. She first locks Ludovic an attic, and later commits him to an insane asylum. Yet like Magda, his need for, and love of, his parent transcends the manner in which he is so heartlessly treated.
In The Quarry Hänsel explores multiple issues related to race, justice, conscience, and morality. In the remote areas of the South African outback, an escaped convict is offered a ride by a friendly and helpful minister. When the minister makes sexual advances toward the criminal, a fight ensues, and the minister is accidentally killed. The convict buries him in an abandoned quarry, and decides to assume the dead cleric's identity, traveling on to the minister's original destination and taking on duties at a church there. Unaware of the switched identity, the churchgoers are satisfied with their new minister's simple but effective ways. When a pair of thieves discovers the minister's true identity, the threat of exposure of his secret becomes real. However, when the thieves are wrongly implicated in the murder, the false minister fights his conscience and feelings of guilt as innocent men are faced with the possibility of paying for his crime. Library Journal reviewer Jeff T. Dick called the movie "a moody, handsome film."
Clouds: Letters to My Son offers a visual assemblage of cloud imagery overlaid by Hänsel's observations of and remarks about her son. The film is "awash with striking visuals tempered by borderline mundane observations about raising her beloved son as a single parent," commented reviewer Lisa Nesselson in Variety Magazine Online. The images of clouds are derived from filming in a variety of locations, from hot-air balloons to mountains, aircraft to solid ground. Natural cloud formations are contrasted with unnatural, unhealthy clouds, such as industrial pollution and billowing smoke from fires. Accompanying the images are Hänsel's messages to her son, who is facing his first steps into independence at age eighteen. She describes his conception, her pregnancy, and notable moments in their lives as he grew to adulthood. The letters are "those of a mother who's also an artist, torn between working on films and being with her son," Nesselson remarked.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Library Journal, September 15, 2000, Jeff T. Dick, review of The Quarry, p. 128.
New York Times, October 31, 1986, Janet Maslin, "Coetzee's Africa," review of Dust; October 1, 1993, Stephen Holden, "In a Scary Future, Babies Who Decline to Be Born," review of Between Heaven and Earth.
Visions, February 15, 1983, J. Aubenas, "Equilibre," interview with Marion Hänsel.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (July 14, 2006), biography and credits of Marion Hänsel.
Variety Magazine Online,http://www.variety.com/ (September 14, 1998), Leonard Klady, review of The Quarry; (June 8, 2001), Lisa Nesselson, review of Clouds: Letters to My Son.
Village Voice Online,http://www.villagevoice.com/ (January 12, 2000), "On the Township," Jessica Winter, review of The Quarry.