Dir: Hal Hartley
Star: Isabelle Huppert, Martin Donovan, Elina L÷wensohn, Damian Young
Cert / Year: 15 - R / 1995
Format: Video

Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) is an ex-nun who writes bad pornography. She is convinced that God has chosen her for a special mission, but unfortunately she has no idea what it is. When she meets a man (Martin Donovan) with amnesia she figures that this must be it. However this leads her into the world of Sofia Ludens (Elina L÷wensohn) a porno actress who has killed her abusive husband, and is now trying to take control of her life by blackmail an international crime lord. Sofia is in big trouble as her friend Edward the account and one time business partner of her husband informs her.

Amateur is a film from highly acclaimed art house director Hal Hartley, and this is the first time I have come across his work. Maybe this is an extremely clever film that works on many levels, or maybe this is a highly flawed film directed in a pseudo intellectual style that actually interferes with the delivery of the story. I could be wrong about this one but I certainly feel like the young boy in the Hans Christian Anderson fable of the Emperors new clothes.

The story is complex and very unpredictable it provides a series of interesting characters and adds in a plot that includes blackmail, amnesia, porn, torture, and madness. The script also has a nice line in black humour with hit men that want to be economic students, and deadpan lines like "hey there's a dead body in the corner". Underneath all of this is the concept that sometimes people waste their potential and become trapped doing something, which is just not them. In fact each of the characters in the film is not really happy with who they are and what they do, and this makes for fascinating exploration of wasted human potential. Or rather it all would do if it were not for the films glaring faults.

With the subject matter of blackmail, amnesia, porn, torture, and madness this film promises much yet on each occasion it fails to deliver. You are constantly kept watching thinking that something big is going to happen yet it never does, and by the end of the film you are left with a feeling that you have been cheated. Don't expect levels of DePalma sexuality or Tarrantino violence, Here the subjects are discussed but never delivered. To see these concepts properly addressed watch Body Double or Bound both films aren't as clever but both are ultimately more satisfying.

This alone may be bad enough but it gets worse. The pacing of the film is terrible. Not since Unbreakable have things plodded along so slowly. A better production team would have shortened this film by 10 to 20 minutes, and at least then some urgency would have been introduced into the proceedings. For a thriller it is weighed down by pointless dialogue which means it is never very thrilling.

Yes, the dialogue is another problem area. While never the best script in the world (far too many lines that are just Yes or No) the delivery is terrible. It is monotone, dreary, and totally unrealistic. Each line of dialogue is delivered so slowly and with such gaps in between that listening to it becomes a chore. Don't get me wrong this isn't the fault of the talented cast, but rather the style chosen by Hal Hartley. When this is combined with the fact that the characters rarely face each other, the whole experience becomes frustratingly alienating, ruining the effect of most of the better lines. Some may say this was intentional and clever, but I say if it detracts from the story then it is just stupid.

Amateur is a hard film to like. It has a good story and talented cast yet it suffers from an alienating style. There is no doubt that there are many better films based around similar subject matter, and I would suggest watching them (try Memento) rather than this. This is a classic case of style destroying substance. At the end of the day is it ironic that a film about wasted potential is a prime example of just that.


Accountancy, Murder, Amnesia, Torture, Ecstasy, Understanding, Redemption.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Glitz Back Top Home