Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Discreet Charm of Hal Hartley

PF2: Possible Films Volume 2 2010
US Directed by Hal Hartley
Possible Films DVD Region 0

Okay... something you should know about me before you start to read this mini review is that I’m completely biased when it comes to the subject of Hal Hartley. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again... Hal Hartley is the greatest "living" director and it’s always been a mystery to me that people in his home country aren't lining up to throw huge piles of money at him to make whatever movies he wants.

I’ve always trusted him completely but... that being said... the last two DVDs I bought of his were a bit hit and miss, which is a really unusual reaction from me to his work. Possible Films Volume 1... which was a collection of some recent shorts... failed to keep me entertained in the style I had become accustomed to when it comes to this great man’s work and, similarly, Fay Grim... his sequel to his excellent Henry Fool, left me a bit cold, even though it had one of my favourite actresses in it (Hartley regular Parker Posey).

Not letting this throw me and since every other film he’s made has not failed to thrill me, entertain me, make me think and otherwise revel in the very nature of film... I decided to purchase his new collection of recent shorts, the starkly titled PF2: Possible Films Volume 2.

All I can say is... he’s still very much at the top of his game. The DVD contains five shorts, as follows:

1. A/Muse (11 minutes)
A/Muse is a quick character sketch of an actress attempting to hook up with “a great director”. There’s something about the style of this one that recalls his character Audrey Roget in his first feature The Unbelievable Truth... this woman is definitely a direct descendent in terms of the character's mix of comical confidence and naivety. He’s even using his old style of captioning (and in a few of the other shorts on offer in this collection). You know... imprecise titling like “Meanwhile” and “After a while”. After about half way through this one it had me chuckling and then giggling. Without giving too much away, the window denouement and then the marvellous demonstration of “why the window denouement” (I have NEVER seen windows that do that... I live a sheltered life) was really excellent.

2. Implied Harmonies (28 minutes and 5 seconds)
Okay, so this is a documentary with just a few little dramatised “reconstructions” of a collaboration between famous composer Louis Andriessen and Hal Hartley as Hartley tries to stage an opera by the former. This contains interviews with both Hartley and Andriessen and is quite fascinating to behold.

3. The Apologies (13 minutes and 36 seconds)
Three characters who don’t share any screen time together shot in an apartment. The words didn’t speak to me as much as they usually do but the women are so beautiful that I was easily distracted.

4. Adventure (20 minutes and 26 seconds)
A light examination of a period in the life of Hal Hartley and his wife, actress Miho Nikaido. This is quite charming if mildly alarming... I didn’t realise they had separated as such... let alone gotten back together again.

5. Accomplice (3 minutes and 8 seconds)
Right. All through his early career I remember Hartley being constantly labelled as being “heavily influenced” by the work of Godard. Now I never agreed with this because, even though I love the work of Godard, I was always easily absorbed by Hartley’s work. It enveloped and pulled me inside in a way that Godard would never have wanted me to be with his movies... in fact Godard employs every tactic in the book to constantly remind you that you are participating in the act of watching a movie. I don’t think Hartley tries to do that. However, I COULD see the influence of Godard in Hartley’s feature The Girl From Monday (going as far as to say that I thought it would make an excellent double bill with Godard’s Alphaville). Well this three minute short seems to wittily address those observations/criticisms from the early nineties. If having the credits popping up every now and again throughout the length of the film arent enough to make you aware of what he’s doing... the footage of Godard which turns up certainly clues you in. I have to say... after having watched this short I have absolutely no idea what it’s about... but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I really liked this whole collection of films and I hope we see something new from Harley again soon. His web site is always worth a visit. If you are a newcomer to Hal Hartley then I probably wouldn’t recommend this collection as a starting point (try his shorts Ambition, Theory of Achievement or Surviving Desire or definitely a couple of his early features such as The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, Simple Men or Amateur... oh heck, most of his body of work will probably get you going... check out his filmography). For fans of this genius of modern cinema though... this is an essential collection.

As far as I’m concerned... a Hal Hartley film is a film rich in clean, visual landscapes and with witty, thought provoking dialogue. I place him shoulder to shoulder with such greats as Kurosawa, Tarkovsky and Fellini. Like them, he is a soft spoken but individual voice that deserves your attention.

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