The Hal Hartley Thread

For those who grew up watching and enjoying John Hughes films, Hal Hartley would be the filmmaker they “graduated” to when going to college. These viewers would embrace Hartley has commenting on suburban American characters, but in a more sophisticated and serious way, while being humorous and accessible at the time. If Richard Linklater is the filmmaker for Generation X, Hartley is more of the independent filmmaker version of this.

Right now, the Criterion Channel is streaming most of Hartley’s films. This is a thread will be a repository for reviews, comments, and discussion about Hartley and these films.


Indiewire (8/16/23) interview

25 thoughts on “The Hal Hartley Thread

  1. Kid (1984)
    Starring: Ricky Ludwig (Ned); Janine Eriksen (Ned’s sister); Leo Grosse (Ned’s father); George Feaster, (Ivan); Bob Gosse (Bruce, guy fixing his car); Karen Sillas (Patsy, Bruce’s sister); Pamela Stewart (Ivan’s sister), and David Troup (boyfriend of Ivan’s sister)
    about 30 minutes

    Ned’s girlfriend has left him, leaving their home town, and he decides to go after her. On his way, he runs into into various people in the neighborhood–most notably Ivan and his sister. Ivan his troubled individuals and Ned is drawn to his situation, partly because of the presence of his sister.

    There’s not much of a plot, and the acting is somewhat limited. Like other films dialogue draws me to the film, although, overall, I wouldn’t say it’s a really good film. Still, one can sense the potential of Hartley as a filmmaker.


    I re-watched most of this. To me, Karen Sillas/Patsy is the best part of the film–her lines, acting, and overall presence. I would have been more interested in seeing a film about her character than any of the others. (I believe Sillas does go on to be a professional actor.)

  2. The Cartographer’s Girlfriend (1987)
    Starring: Steven Geiger (Bob), Marissa Chibas (girlfriend), George Feaster (George, Bob’s friend), Lorraine Achee (mom), Robert Richmond (dad)
    28 minutes

    The Cartographer's Girlfriend 1

    The Cartographer's Girlfriend 2

    The Cartographer's Girlfriend 3

    Bob, a young and shy surveyor who works on an ancient map in his spare time. He is drawn to a mysterious young woman who enters his life.


    • Like other Hartley films I’ve enjoyed, the dialogue appealed to me, especially between Bob and the girl. Here’s an example:

      Girl: I’m just everything you’ve ever wanted. The answer to all your prayers, buster. But you don’t know anything about me.
      George: I like you just the way you are. (She’s a stranger.)
      Girl: You like no knowing anything about me!
      George: I want to know. I want to know everything about you.
      Girl: That’s just it, isn’t it? Then I’d be like any other woman. It’s what you don’t know about me that you love.

      (Note: In the film, the girl is a stranger to Bob and his parents, and she literally walks into their apartment, behaving as if she belongs there. The move doesn’t seem believable, but it worked for me.)

    • Another:

      (Bob VO): Man is so small, and he is tied so closely to his earth habitat that he must employ among other techniques that of cartography in order to see the broader spatial relationships that exist in his complex world.
      Girl: I’m just everything you wanted. But you don’t know me.
      Bob: I like you the way…you are.
      Girl: You like not knowing anything about me.
      (Bob VO: Making maps makes him able to rise above the immediate range of vision and contemplate larger areas.)
      Bob: Where are you going?
      Girl: It doesn’t matter. Away! Don’t ask such stupid questions!
      Bob: I’ll come with you.
      Girl: You can’t.
      Bob: I want to know…what you…showed about myself. I can’t talk.
      Girl: Are you alright?
      Bob: I can’t see. I’m lost.
      Girl: It took men over two thousand years to measure the earth accurately. To determine it’s actual size. It’s true shape.
      (Bob VO: A large scale map of a small region depicting its landforms, drainage, settlement patterns, roads, geology, or other geographic and economic distributions provides him with the knowledge of relationships to carry on his work intelligently. The building of a road, house, or flood control system or almost any other constructive endeavor requires prior mapping. At a smaller scale, maps of soil erosion, land use, population character, climates, income and so on are indispensable to understanding the problems and potentialities of the areas. At the smallest scale, maps of the whole earth indicate generalizations and relationships of broad earth patterns with which we may intelligently consider the course of events, past, present, and future.)

    • Anaylsis: Bob uses cartography, perhaps subconsciously, as a way to getting bearings on his life–in terms of his relationships and future goals. At the same time, he may know this is illusory. For example, in the beginning of the film, he comes home from wandering around town aimlessly. He tells his father he takes off his watch and loses track of time, but, while holding a compass, he says to his father, “No matter how far I go, whenever I look around me, I always know exactly where I am. It’s disappointing.” This indicates he’s searching for something more, but doesn’t know what. The compass gives his a sense of where he is physically, but not spiritually or psychologically.
    • I really liked Marissa Chibas in this role. Geiger may not be a great actor, but as in some of Hartley’s other films, his stiffness works with the material.
    • Feaster strikes me as someone who got a lot of attention in high school–the type of guy classmates would expect to make it as an actor. His acting is not so subtle or naturalistic, and this makes him less interesting and effective than one would think.
    • I liked the scene where Bob and George are catcalling women, and one of the women (Karen Sillas) walks up and kisses George. I specially like Sillas in this
    • Things I liked, but don’t know why: the presence of Bob’s catatonic mother; the goldfish the girl, particularly when she releases it in a sink and the shot of the goldfish coming out from the under the pulp paperback, Triangle of Lust that the girl threw in the sink.
    • Voiceover of Bob or the girl talking about cartography and the way the film uses this to refer to Bob and relationships in general–this was something that could have been cheesy, but I found it effective.
    • It would be cool if the VO’s about cartographer either came from a textbook or actual lecture notes, and Hartley wove them into this film.

  3. Dogs (1988)
    Starring: Richard Ludwig (Ricky), Mike Brady (Mike), Gary Sauer ()
    12 minutes


    • What’s notable: Hartley co-wrote this with Ludwig and Steven O’Connor. To me, this has a noticeable effect. It doesn’t feel like a Hartley film, and I’m not sure I would have identified it as such if I knew it wasn’t. For me, this was a bad thing, as the film felt flat.
    • The film feels like Hartley is experimenting. For example, he periodically features shots of dogs, with the dog barking most of the time. To me, it doesn’t work that well.
    • One other interesting tidbit: To me, Ludwig wooden acting doesn’t really work (including his performance in Kid), and yet Geiger’s performance in Cartographer, which is also stiff and wooden, does. Why that is, I’m not sure….Hartley’s lines are often unnatural; they’re conspicuously theatrical, and the dialogue seems to work better if the reading of the dialogue is a bit stiffer–which is weird, because in most cases, this would be undesirable. (David Mamet might be another situation where this is true.)
  4. Ambition (1991)
    Starring: George Feaster, etc.
    Cinematography: Michael Spiller (who also worked on several, if not all, of the previous films.)
    8 minutes

    A short film that cleverly and sometimes humorously expresses the aspirations and difficulties of a young artist or even artisan–i.e., someone who cares about doing excellent work.


    • Some may find this pretentious. Indeed, I thought Ned Rifle’s simple piano score veered into parody of youthful earnestness–although maybe Hartley intentionally wanted a more droll and whimsical tone. That may be, but I did take the ideas expressed seriously and not as something Hartley intended to satirize. But maybe I’m wrong about that.
    • Had I seen this in my twenties, I would have love the idealism and philosophy. Interestingly, the idealism and philosophy still resonate with me now, although not as much it used to. However, that’s not because of cynicism, but rather spiritual growth–being less concerned about worldly ambitions.
    • I mentioned Mamet in previous posts, and in this film it seems like the dialogue is influenced by Mamet (e.g., declaratively repeating phrases like “The world is a dangerous and uncertain place.”)
    • Examples of creatively: The main character literally fighting/punching people on the way to work–which I understood to symbolize the struggle and sometimes danger young artists often have to face. Again, this is something that could seem pretentious or cheesy, but I don’t share that opinion.
    • Feaster seems better here, as if he better understands Hartley’s aesthetic.
  5. Theory of Achievement (1991)
    17 minutes


    • Stylistically in the same vein as “Ambition.” Actually, the latter to at least Trust, Hartley has found his voice or style.
    • One thing I didn’t mention regarding “Ambition,” and it also pertains to this film: Both often have that French New Wave pretentious dialogue/scenes–the kind that might be featured in a Calvin Klein commercial.
    • The dialogue and philosophy didn’t work as well in this film for me.
    • Side note: One of the characters in the beginning of the film talks about how they should move to Brooklyn, that it’s going to be a happening place for artists.
    • Like the previous film, I think the comedy seems to be improving.
    • I can’t think of many memorable visual moments in this.

    Edit: 11/11/2023

    I thought the quotes below from “Surviving Desire and Company” by Hal Hartley from were good descriptions of both Ambition and Theory of Achievement

    “The two features, The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, were dialogue-built, performer-driven, character-based fictions where naturalistic verisimilitude was a part of every creative decision no matter how unrealistic a scene might be on the surface. And that’s how I wanted it. But Theory and Ambition were more like some kind of propaganda—manifestos gone off the rails. In my notebook, I started referring to these exercises as demonstrations.”

    Later, “Philosophical disputations as vaudeville”

      1. Okay. If you don’t want your photo to be at the very bottom of your comment, you have to upload the photo first (as I described in the email), then copy its URL (as explained in the next email), then use the (img src=”URL”) HTML except use a greater than and less than sign instead of parentheses.

        Like this. And you can insert as many photos as you like; just upload them to the media gallery first.

  6. The Unbelievable Truth (1989)
    Starring: Robert John Burke (Josh), Adrienne Shelley (Audry),Chris Cooke (Vic Hugo,Audry’s dad), Julia McNeal (Pearl), Katherine Mayfield (Liz Hugo, Audry’s mom), Gary Sauer (Emmet, Audry’s ex-boyfriend), Edie Falco (waitress), Matt Malloy (driver/bum)

    The Unbelievable Truth

    I saw this a few weeks ago, and now my recollection of the film isn’t so clear and vivid. Here are some things that I remember/stood out:

    • As far as I know, this is Hartley’s first feature film, and it’s a good debut. It’s interesting to see the way the film is a culmination of the films prior–certain themes, and the dialogue.
    • One difference is in the dialogue. Some of the scenes that feature repeating lines of relatively simple sentences reminds me of Mamet, and I can’t help thinking Hartley was influenced by him.
    • Another crucial difference is the acting and casting of the film. In this film, while I wouldn’t say the acting is exceptional, it is well-suited for the material. Even better is the casting. The actors bring the dialogue and film to life, in ways that wasn’t always the case in the previous shorts.
    • The dialogue and scenes still have a theater feel, but that’s largely positive or neutral.
    • The idea of the romantic leads being outsiders who find each other works is something that Hartley will explore, maybe more successfully in the subsequent film, Trust.

    Side note: The film was made for $62,500 in 11 days, mostly on the street where Hartley grew up.

  7. Trust (1990)
    Starring: Martin Donovan (Matthew Slaughter), Adrienne Shelley (Maria Slaughter), Rebecca Nelson (Jean Coughlin, Maria’s mom), John Mackay (Jim Slaughter, Matthew’s dad), Edie Falco (Peg Couhglin, Maria’s sister), Chris Cooke (Anthony, Maria’s ex-boyfriend), etc.

    Some random thoughts:

    • This was one of my 10 top favorite films of all time. While I still like the film, I’m not sure it would still be on my list. Watching this with Larri sort of hurt my enjoyment of this film. I wanted the ending to be something that would make her enjoy it, but it didn’t (and I forgot about the exact details of the ending.
    • Watching the film, I didn’t realize (or I forgot) that the film had a strong feminist streak–specifically with Shelley’s character, deciding to have an abortion and not marry Matthew. (The ending is a bit ambivalent on the whether they get married or not.) For reasons I mentioned above, this was a little disappointing. Also, these turn of events seemed forced, as if the film wanted to make a statement and also avoid a Hollywood ending.
    • The film feels like the peak of Hartley’s filmmaking–the fullest expression of what he’s going for, especially Martin Donovan as Matthew. It feels like another attempt at The Unbelievable Truth, with better results. (I can see people not really agreeing this the last point.)
    • Like The Unbelievable Truth, the casting is spot on. The actors really make the dialogue and humor work, which didn’t always occur in the short films, not to the same degree. I liked Rebecca Nelson’s Jean in this.

    This is my favorite scene from the film:

  8. No Such Thing (2001)
    Starring: Sarah Polley (Beatrice), Robert John Burke (Monster), Helen Mirren (The Boss), Julie Christie (Dr. Anna), Baltasar Kormákur (Dr. Artaud)

    (Note: I’m trying to watch the films in chronological order. However, I had to watch this before some of the others because it was leaving the Criterion Channel.)


    • I don’t have a good understanding of the film, and I’m not sure I’m going to put in the time to analyze the film more deeply.
    • One thing that stood out: The simple score on cheap sounding keyboards continues. I’m not sure how to describe the mood it evokes. There’s a lonely feeling, but also light and not somber. At this point, it seems like a signature sound for Hartley.
    • Polley’s performance as almost a kind of Holy Fool worked well for me. (The braided hair was effective for her character.) I also like Mirren’s performance, especially in the first two acts.
    • The film looked like a version of Beauty and the Beast, which made me a bit skeptical about the film. However, the film sucked my in fairly quickly. Things go awry in the third act; it threw me off. Beatrice embracing fame and hedonism just seemed like a dramatic turn in character, and nothing in the previous scenes indicated something like this would happen. Also, Mirren was less funny and interesting in this section.
    • I’m not sure what the film is really about.

    (Edit: 11/24/2023)

    RE: What the film is about? The way fame and material wealth can easily corrupt the innocent and good?

  9. Surviving Desire (1992)
    Starring: Martin Donovan (Jude), Mary Ward (Sophie), Matt Malloy (Henry), Rebecca Nelson (Katie)
    55 minutes

    • What’s the cinematic version of a novella? That’s what this movie is.
    • From The Unbelievable Truth, the films feel like Hartley either went back to grad school in philosophy or started to do a lot of the reading–the same type of reading in a philosophy grad program or a liberal arts college. It also feels like he started watching early Godard films. This film really gives that impression the most.
    • As an example, there’s a dance sequence that makes me think of A Band a Part. By the way, I really enjoyed the sequence, the way it flows from the previous scene.
    • I could see some calling the film pretentious, especially the dialogue, but I don’t agree, for the most part. Or, I didn’t find this to be a flaw.
    • I enjoyed the serenade scene, including the actual music, which had a strong 90’s sound.
    • Mary Ward has that Janine Turner (Northern Exposure) look in this.
  10. Simple Men (1992)
    Starring: Robert John Burke (Bill McCabe), Bill Sage (Dennis McCabe), Karen Sillas (Kate), Elina Lowensohn (Elina), Martin Donovan (Martin), Mark Chandler Bailey (Mike), Chris Cooke (Vic), John MacKay (Bill McCabe Sr.)
    Holly Marie Combs (Kim), etc.

    Two brother, Bill and Dennis, go looking for their father, a man wanted for bombing the pentagon. Along the way they meet up Kate and Elina.


    • The film I liked the least so far. Some of the shorts are not as good, but they seem more like drafts or experiments. This movie just felt flat to me. The dialogue has some cool moments, but for the most part they’re not as good as other Hartley films. The casting has been really good on the previous feature films, but the casting isn’t very good here, especially Bill Sage as Dennis. Sage is just lifeless, uninteresting, and wooden. If there is humor in this, it falls flat, although I don’t think this was meant to be a comedy.
    • One exception is Karen Sillas, who has been interesting in all of the Hartley’s films up to this point. She seems like a person with troubles or a dark past that one senses under the surface–and this draws me to her. She is a solid actor with a good screen presence. I wished she acted in more films.
  11. NYC 3/94 (1994)
    Starring: Dwight Ewell, Liana Pai, Paul Schulze, James Urbaniak
    10 minutes

    Almost a performance piece or painting on NYC, or more broadly, people in a city. In the film we often hear gunfire or planes, as if a war is going on in the background. The film features several “paintings” or moments: A black man covering his ears; an Asian woman finding an unconscious black man lying on the street; the same woman finding a white man lying on the street; the three previously mentioned characters running away from something.

    Iris (1994)
    Starring: Sabrina Lloyd, Parker Posey
    3 minutes

    I had a hard time hearing some of the dialogue, and there were no subtitles.

  12. Amateur (1994)
    Dir. Hal Hartley
    Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Martin Donovan, Elina Lowesohn, Damian Young, etc.

    (Note: I originally wrote the first section a few months ago. I just saw the film again, and I have my comments below.)

    Hartley’s made a handful of films that I really like (e.g., Trust, The Unbelievable Truth, Meanwhile, etc.), and I am interested in any film he makes. For some reason, I never heard of this film, so I was excited to see it.

    The film involves two stories: an ex-nun turned adult film writer, Isabelle (Huppert), who helps an amnesiac (Donovan) find his identity, and a former adult film star (Lowensohn) trying to start a new life.

    One of my favorite things about Hartley is his dialogue. Unfortunately, what makes his dialogue is largely absent here. Also, the acting in Hartley’s films can feel something from college students, at least under the surface, but the writing and maybe one or two actors can elevate and carry the film. Huppert is good, particularly her comedic moments, but most of the other actors (including Hartley regular, Donovan) often don’t make it and come off flat.

    Still, the film’s story and structure is interesting on a dramatic level. I’ll say more in the next section.

    The amnesiac, Thomas, has a violent, dark past. But his amnesia frees him from that, and he is a new, better person. On one side of him is an ex-nun, who writes x-rated stories and also claims to be a nymphomaniac, even though she’s a virgin. She wants Thomas to be the first to make love to her. Moving in the opposite direction is Thomas’s wife, Sofia, who is running away from Thomas and the world of porn.

    But Thomas has a chance to find redemption by helping Sofia escape from Thomas’s dangerous associates from his past. Ironically (again), Isabelle can now serve God by helping Sofia find safety and maybe even help Thomas find redemption.

    The ending reminds me a little of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. That character has a dark past, but also makes an attempt at redemption by letting criminals go (or something to that effect). But in the end, God, Fate, or the cosmos won’t let him off. Same with Thomas.

    Having said that, the film does, perhaps, suggest Thomas has found some deeper redemption. At the end, a police officer asks Isabelle if she knows Thomas, and she answers in the affirmative. Thomas was a stranger and an amnesiac. Isabelle’s answer suggests that she knows him, the bad, but also the good. (Also, prior to Thomas’s death, Isabelle give Thomas his loaded gun–which suggests she believes he’s redeemed. Prior to that Thomas expresses contrition as well.)

    The one lingering question I have: Why “Amateur?” Who does that refer to? Isabelle? Amateur at being a spiritual person? (That doesn’t sound right.) Does amateur refer to people in general? Amateur at what?

    (Here’s an answer, from Hartley in Filmmakermagazine:

    When asked to explain the title of his most recent feature, Amateur, Hal Hartley responds, “There is a nice anecdote about Hitchcock once dismissively calling Charles Laughton an amateur. Laughton responded, ‘Well, I love my work.’ That is the meaning of the word I intended. You know the root of the word is ‘one who loves.’”

    So, is Isabelle one who loves? That would make sense, but the “amateur” is still a real odd word choice, if so. Maybe the word also signifies that lack of expertise and experience–but not lacking in love.

    There’s also this:

    Hartley imagines that if he were to make a film titled The Professional, it would “deal with the implication of submitting your own personal morality to standards which don’t personally have anything to do with you.” Such was for Hartley the point of his 1990 feature Trust in which “a character refuses to take a standard corporate ideal of efficiency and submit to it, or even contribute to it.”

    This comment reinforces the idea that amateur refers to Isabelle. Isabelle says that the Virgin Mary appeared to her three times, telling her not to be a nun. But she didn’t listen. Eventually she leaves the convent, but is still open to God’s leading. The nuns may be equivalent to professionals, and maybe colder, institutionalize religion. She must break away and be an “amateur” to do God’s work. I think this is a stretch, but maybe not much.

    More from the article:

    In effect each of the other three actors plays out in his or her role the particular fate of Donovan’s character – they are all beginning new lives with the associations of their old ones still intact. As Hartley points out, “All the characters are in some way unprofessional: Elina is an unprofessional con artist, Isabelle is a unprofessional pornographer, and Martin is an unprofessional human being. Each of them end up doing things out of a sense of love.” And the last character, Edward, who is at once the most essential and the most peripheral, is also the ultimate amateur, an amateur at love.



    • In my first viewing, I said that the dialogue lacked Hartley’s signature voice. That’s not entirely true. What’s true is that there aren’t that many memorable lines or scenes–not like the ones from The Unbelievable Truth and Trust.
    • I only liked Isabelle Huppert’s performance–and it is indeed good–but the other performances weren’t as flat this time around, although they are a bit blander compared to previous films
    • One thing I noticed: Hartley has some good female actors and good female characters–e.g., Adrienne Shelley, Karen Sillas, Rebecca Nelson.
  13. Flirt (1995)
    Starring: (To long to list)

    Descriptions of the film can spoil it, at least to some degree, so I’ll try to broadly describe the premise. A woman is leaving for Paris. She wants to know if she has a future with the guy she’s been seeing. The guy says he’ll drive her to the airport, but he needs to borrow a car. He’ll be back in an hour and half and give her the answer.

    The film was enjoyable, but pulling this film off was going to be challenging, and in the third act the film lost a little steam.

    One of my favorite parts of the film involved the conversation between the construction workers.

  14. Henry Fool (1997)
    Starring: Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak, Parker Posey, etc.

    Most films rooted in a story or character(s) depend heavily on casting. Get that wrong and the film fails. That’s true in this film. The film’s success depended almost solely on the casting and performance of Thomas Jay Ryan, in the titular role. For me, his performance was very hit-or-miss, with more misses than hits. This really stymied whatever comedy, drama, and sympathy that the film attempted to evoke. To be fair, the titular character wasn’t meant to be entirely sympathetic, but he still should have been compelling and interesting. Again, Ryan largely failed–although I can see why Hartley chose him. He had the right voice for the part, and to some degree the right look. But he just didn’t work for me.

    Let me summarize the story. Henry Fool rents a room from the Grim family–Mary (Maria Porter, who seemed too young for the part, the mother, with Fay (Posey) and Simon (Urbaniak) her adult children. Fool is an unpublished writer and intellectual. He encourages Simon, a garbage man, to start writing. Simon’s poetry soon draws a lot of attention and controversy.

    There are other characters in this story, intersecting with Henry and the Grims, in ways too complex to describe here.

    Ultimately, I’m not sure what the film is about. Is about the serious artist in the world indifferent to art? Is about taking action, instead of wallowing in intellectual excuses?

  15. The Other Also (1997)
    7 minute film

    Abstract with two actors shot through a distorted lens making them look like Giacometti sculptures–i.e., silhouetted figures with skinny limbs and neck and a head shaped like a Q-tip. The figures stand side-to-side, while periodically overlapping. I liked the images.

    The voiceover in English quotes Jesus’s remarks about turning one’s cheek. (The other also refers to the other cheek.) There is a voiceover in Japanese, but without subtitles.

  16. The Book of Life (1998)
    Starring: Martin Donovan, PJ Harvey, Thomas Jay Ryan, Davd Simonds, Miho Nikaido, etc.

    Donovan plays Jesus Christ returning to judge–only he’s showing reluctance towards this and ending the world. This type of movie can be really difficult for me to appreciate independently of my religious beliefs. If my beliefs and understanding don’t align with the film’s, it will be hard to fairly judge the film.

    Seen as a more humanist film, the film fares better in my eyes, but it ideas here still seem a bit predictable and a little shallow. (I’m thinking specifically of the questions at the end.)

    Shot in video–at modified frames per second and static-y images.

    Last lines of the film, spoken by Jesus:

    And the New Year arrived. The new millenium. Just another day in a lifetime of similar days. But each of them crowded with possibility. The possibility of disaster. The possibility of perfection. To be there amongst them again was good. The innocent and the guilty. All equally helpless. All perfectly lost. And, as frightening as it was to admit. all deserving of forgiveness.

    What would become of them, I wondered. In another hundred years, would they all be born in test tubes? Or perhaps evolve through computers and become groups of disembodied digital intelligent machines. Would they remember who I was? Would they remember what I said? Would it matter? Maybe someone else will come along and pretty much say the same thing. Would anyone notice? Maybe in a hundred years would the be living on other planets.

    Would the Earth still exist? Would they engineer themselves genetically so that disease was a thing of the past? Would they all just become one big multi-ethnic race? Would they discover the secret of the universe? God? Would they become Gods themselves? What will they eat? What sort of houses will they live in?

    Cities? Think about it. What will the weather be like? Will they still have to go to work everyday? What will they wear in the future?

    How smart will they get? And will being smarter make them happier? Will they all speak the same language in the future? Will they make love? Maybe there will be more than two sexes. Will they still believe life will be sacred? Will it matter?

    Do we matter?


    To me, this merely a man speaking, one who doesn’t believe in God–or doesn’t know God exists; a man who isn’t unintelligent, but lacks the depth of understanding of the Son of God.

  17. The New Maths (2000)
    Starring: DJ Mendel, Miho Nikaido, David Neumann

    Cinema veering towards (modern) dance, with kung-fu and a time-loop. Three people are working on a complex math problem–one seems to a professor, the other two students. (There’s an apple involved in this, and I’m not sure why.)

    Noteworthy: Louis Andriessen (and someone else) write the music, not Ned Rifle.

  18. The Girl from Monday (2005)
    Starring: Bill Sage, Sabrina Lloyd, Tatiana Abracos, Leo Fitzpatrick (Williams), etc.

    After Simple Men, Hartley seemed to want to make films in different genres, crime noir (Amateur), fantasy (Book of Life), modern fairy tale (No Such Thing), and now sci-fi with this film.

    In some distant future, earth is controlled largely by a corporation that has indoctrinated everyone with consumerist values. Every must be done to help the economy. A group of people resist this, and form an underground group trying to break free the rules of this society. Those caught are sent to the moon to work in menial jobs.

    Amidst all of this, an alien life form, normally without a material body, has come to Earth in human form, looking for an alien that arrived years before.


    I’ll never know if she made it. But I hope. And I try. resist. Even me, whom no one needs pity. Even I can see this. Now. What humans do. Try.

    That’s the last lines of the film the female alien attempts to return to her planet. Jack (an alien helping lead the resistance) stays back on Earth. The “message” of the film: Keep fighting for integrity and values that fall outside consumerist ones. This is a message for those striving for excellence, artistic or any other type.

  19. Fay Grim (2006)
    Starring: Parker Posey, James Urbaniak, etc.

    Description of the film from the Criterion Channel:

    Parker Posey returns as Fay Grim, a single mother from Woodside, Queens, who fears her son (Liam Aiken) will grow up to be like his father, Henry Fool, a fugitive from the law. Meanwhile, her brother Simon (James Urbaniak) is serving a prison sentence for having helped Henry flee the country. Now a CIA agent (Jeff Goldblum) wants Fay to help him find Henry’s supposedly dangerous notebooks in exchange for Simon’s release.

    If the CIA element seems crazy, it gets worse, involving a convoluted, farcical plot, which includes revealing Henry’s past involvement in the CIA. At some moments, I admit I chuckled, but for the most part the silliness was a bit exasperating and ultimately pretty dull. By the end the film seems to veer back towards more serious drama–specifically the love between Fay and Henry–but I was already checked out of the film by that point.

  20. A/Muse (2009)
    Starring: Christina Flick
    11 minutes

    A solid “short story.” A young German actress goes to Berlin, seeking the American director she has long admired. Her aspiration to is work with this director.

    The film develops in an nice way, with a satisfying ending.

    Implied Harmonies (2008)
    Starring: Jordana Mauer, Hal Hartley, Louis Andriessen, etc.

    From the Criterion Channel:

    Hal Hartley’s conscientious assistant in Berlin receives weekly letters from her boss and sends him the books he needs as he struggles in Amsterdam to stage Dutch composer Louis Andriessen’s opera “La commedia.”

    More of a documentary about a the making of La commedia.

    The Apologies (2010)
    Starring Nikolai Kinski, Bettina Zimmermann, Ireen Kirsch

    From CC:

    A commercially realistic but artistically conflicted playwright lends his Berlin apartment to a young actor friend so she can rehearse her drama-school audition while he goes off to save his doomed production in New York.

    Adventure (201)
    approximately 20 minutes

    This is more of a reflection by Hal Hartley and Miho Nikaido, his wife on their relationship. Lots of footage of Mikaido in Japan. I short is OK, but I found it interesting.

    Starring: Jordan Mauer
    approximately 3 minutes

    Hartley utilizes the same assistant (actor?) featured in Implied Harmonies, and turns interactions with her into a noir-ish scene.

  21. Meanwhile (2012)
    Starring: DJ Mendel (Joseph “Joe” Fulton), etc.
    57 minutes

    (Note: I typed this after the review of Ned Rifle.)

    Description from CC:

    “This generously openhearted fable offers a glimpse of New York City through the eyes of Joe Fulton (D. J. Mendel), a guy who can fix seemingly anything. When Joe’s bank account and credit cards are temporarily frozen by the tax authorities, he must walk from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side to get a set of keys. Along the way, he can’t help himself from fixing the various problems of the strangers he meets. The only trouble is that Joe’s propensity for helping others threatens to stand in the way of realizing his own ambitions.”

    I really loved this film the first time I saw this, and I feel the same way on the second viewing. Mendel’s Joe is probably my favorite character from Hartley’s films, the second being Martin Donovan’s Matthew Slaughter.

    Random notes about the film

    • Both Joseph Fulton and Matthew Slaughter are exceptionally skilled at fixing things. Matthew’s high standards alienate him from the commercial world, preventing him from worldly success. Matthew disdains the world that seeks profits at the expense of quality, and in general Matthew seems relatively indifferent to making money. (He becomes interested and motivated in making money when he becomes a father and husband.)
    • Joe also seems indifferent to money as well, but he is a mellower, more mature, and possibly wiser version of Matthew. Part of this maturation includes greater sensitivity and compassion towards those around him. He’s not a damaged, misanthropic malcontent like Matthew (although Matthew’s father is likely a big reason for this). Helping others, without any expectations of compensation, more than adhering to high standards of excellence, is a big part of who Joe is. Additionally, Joe has no qualms with commercial success. Indeed, he’s hoping for it–at least one moment of it.
    • Interestingly, Henry Fool and Simon Grim plays out this tension between excellence and commercialism. Grim, like Mathew, is the brilliant autodidact who views the commercial world with contempt. Because of this, he views Grim sconfully, as a sell-out, when Grim agrees to have his poetry published, although this position may stem from bitterness and envy more than a principled stance.
    • Additionally, the dynamics between Henry Fool and Ned Rifle, centering around the intellectual/artistic versus the moral/religious, suggesting Hartley’s interest in these two modes of existence. Joseph seems to be Hartley’s ideal man–combining Ned’s character–albeit more in terms of caring for others versus being devout or following a moral code–with Matthew’s exceptional talents and a more healthy attitude towards material success (perhaps similar to Simon Grim).

    My favorite scene from the film: (Joe randomly meets a novelist in a bar. The novelist is waiting to meet someone who will fix his typewriter, but the guy doesn’t show. Joe asks if he can try fixing the typewriter, and they have a conversation. Here, I start from when Joe mentions he’s a drummer.)

    Novelist: Ah, so you’re a drummer.

    Joe: That, too. Different things. I acted in a movie that never got distributed. Wrote a novel that never got published, might produced a movie. Recently, I make video content for an online ad agency. And I’m trying to get this import business started. Construction materials, windows particularly.

    (After working on the typewriter, the novelist tries it out, and it’s fixed. The novelist wants to pay Joe, but Joe refuses. The novelist offers to buy him a drink, and Joe accepts.)

    Novelist: What is your novel about?

    Joe: Love. Jealousy. Regret. Passion.

    Novelist: A tragedy.

    Joe: You think?

    Novelist: A comedy is supposed to end better than it started, a tragedy worse.

    Joe: Life is never that clear, is it?

    Novelist: Tragedy elevates us through sorrow. And comedy helps us forget. I think that’s how it goes. Anyway.

    Joe: I wrote about a man who doesn’t love anyone or anything any more than he loves anyone else or any other thing.

    Novelist: Very existentialist.

    Joe: You think so?

    Novelist: Interior, I imagine. Not much action.

    Joe: No one makes it to page 20.

    Novelist: Novelist, drummer, actor, movie producer, entrepreneur. You’ve got a lot on your plate?

    Joe: It’s harder to hit a moving target.

    Novelist: I’m curious. What drives you?

    Joe: You mean, psychological motivation?

    Novelist: Sorry, characters are my business. I’m interested professionally.

    Joe: Success.

    Novelist: Really? Worldly success?

    Joe: Yeah.

    Novelist: That’s all?

    Joe: I’d settle for that. Of course, if an opportunity of artistic or spiritual transcendence arose, I’d go for that, too. If I didn’t have to make a fool of myself.

    Novelist: A skeptic.

    Joe: I keep thinking that if I had some sort of success at something, on the other side of that success would be more air to breathe.

    Novelist: More space.

    Joe: A minute would have 63 seconds.

    Novelist: A mystic!

    Joe: It’s only the whiskey talking. I think a man gets a certain smell about him at a certain point. The unsuccessful smell. The odor of failure. He’s gotta beat that. Outrun it. Or just accept it. Live without such expectations.

    I’ve read in books that there is such a thing as the quiet, happy, and uneventful life. But you might not, and I mean this as no offense, you may not know this. You had your first big success, in what, your twenties?

    Novelist: At 32, but it didn’t last long….30 years later, and I’m still milking it.

    Joe: Still you had. Something to build on. Some concrete success.

    Novelist: I’d like to do something different, though.

    Joe: Can’t you?

    Novelist: I’m afraid.

    Joe: Really?

    Novelist: People like what they know. To change, to explore, it’s a risky business.

    Joe: But you’re you.

    Novelist: I might not be me if I did something new. Even worse, I might be me, but in ruins. I admit it, I lack the courage to challenge the world in that way again. Can I offer you a ride somewhere? I have a car waiting outside.

    (Joe rides with the novelist, and gets out at his destination.)

    Novelist: Send me your book.

    Joe: Really? I’m told it’s really bad.

    Novelist: I’ve already read all the really good ones.

    Joe: OK, I will. Thanks for the ride.

    Novelist: Take care my friend.

  22. Ned Rifle (2014)
    Starring: Liam Aiken, Aubrey Plaza, Thomas Jane Ryan, James Urbaniak, Parker Posey, Martin Donovan, Karen Sillas, etc.

    From the Criterion Channel:

    “(A) young son, Ned (Liam Aiken), embarks on a quest to kill his father for wrecking his mom’s life….” He’s joined by a troubled graduate student (Aubrey Plaza), who is a fan of Simon Grim’s poetry.

    The nature and tone of the film moves away from the silly comedic hijinks of Fay Grim and returns to tone of Henry Fool.

    Here’s my current understanding of the film: The movie contrasts two modes of existence: the ethical/religious, represented by Ned, and the intellectual/artistic, represented by Henry. The film seems to favor the former more than the latter–although to be more accurate, Henry represents the type of intellectual that is largely egocentric and ultimately unprincipled and cowardly. In essence, a intellectual/artist who is ultimately devoid of a moral core.

    This is one of several films that point to Hartley’s interest in religion and morality (the first film being Amateur). I don’t know if Hartley is a religious person or believer. My sense is that he is not believer (i.e., not a Christian), but he does believe in a moral universe. Ultimately, his handling of Christianity and moral issues seem a little shallow and therefore unsatisfying.

    Random notes:

    • There are several references to the devil–e.g., Henry claiming to be the devil (although he expained that this was merely a ruse); When Fay talks about some of the crimes some of the women committed in the prison, she asks, “What gets into people?” Ned responds: “The Devil, probably.” I’ve also read somewhere that Hartley thought of Faust while making Henry Fool, which Henry being a Mephistopholian figure. (This surprised me, as I never would have thought that, although I don’t think I’ve read all of Faust.)
    • Karen Sillas has had a very compelling presence in the other Hartley films, but here she disappointed me. Her character is really bland in this film, and to be fair there isn’t much in the role for her, and it’s not really well-suited for her, either. Also, she appears to have had plastic surgery, which takes away from her screen presence.)
    • Ned Rifle is the name listed under composer for many of Hartley’s films, but my understanding is that it is a pseudonym for Hartley. Ned is a kind of alter-ego for Hartley?.

    Some key scenes:

    (Ned and Henry are in a car. Ned is taking Henry out of the pharmaceutical company.)

    Henry: To be fair, Simon’s third and fourth books were pretty good,and I hadn’t seen him in years. I read them in translation, of course, being in exile and everything. It’s clear he allowed himself to be influenced by the dynamics of his own notoriety, so to speak. Can you hold that farther away? Don’t you agree?

    Ned: About what?

    Henry: Simon’s third and fourth books.

    Ned: I don’t read poetry.

    Henry: What do you read?

    Ned: I read what really matters.

    Henry: Oh, you mean like The New York Times?

    Ned: No.

    Henry: No, shit, you’re a God-fearing man?

    Ned: You got a problem with that?

    (Henry, Susan, and Ned are driving in the car, with Ned driving. Henry is dictating a book, while Susan transcribes it on a laptop.)

    Henry: So, it’s like this. In the infinite amplitude of his love, God wants to create the largest number of best elements that can exist together in one cosmos. O.K., that’s a spin on Leibniz, but the important part is next.

    Susan: Do I write that?

    Henry: No, hold on. In an instantaneous calculation made in eternity, God computes the best possible world and creates it. O.K., fine. This decision, as it were, by God, is uncontingent and eternal, rather than temporally or ontologically sequential.

    Susan: Mmm…

    Henry: What?

    Susan: Do you think that’s the right word?

    Henry: Temporally?

    Susan: No, ontologically.

    Henry: What do you suggest?

    Susan: It’s just that the nature of being is already the subject of the passage itself.
    I think you should move on from the idea of temporality to something more materially concrete.

    Henry: Spatiality, right. Or–

    Ned: We’ll stop here for the night.

    Henry: Anyway, the point, Susan, it is impossible for every perfect good to be compatible with every other perfect good. The holiness of the mountain needs to be contrasted with the profanity of the used condom on the sidewalk so to speak.

    Susan: Good image, should I write that?

    Henry: The good of free will must entail real choices for sin. Something like that. We’ll continue tomorrow.

    Later, when Henry and Susan discuss their past:

    Henry: Susan, what my life might’ve been if I’d never met you.

    Susan: I’m sorry.

    Henry: Please don’t apologize. What’s done is done and I shouldn’t have done it. I wanted you to.
    You were 13. You didn’t know what you wanted.

    Susan: I did. I did know what I wanted.

    Henry: Susan, it’s like I’ve been trying to get at. There is sin in this world. I haven’t worked it out
    perfectly yet, but if there is such a thing as sin, it comes down to this. Taking advantage of innocence.

    Susan: I was not innocent. How dare you say that. You were the only one I wanted.

    Henry: Yes, the only one stupid enough to succumb to the advances of an overweight and perspiring adolescent with bad teeth. What happened?

    Susan: I grew up.

    Henry: Well, you’ve got a nice ass.

    Susan: I had braces until I was 26.

    Henry: You could use a few pounds, though.

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