Amateur (1994): The Webs We Weave
0 comment Monday, April 7, 2014 |
Directed by Hal Hartley
Written by Hal Hartley
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Martin Donovan, Elina Lowensohn, and Damian Young
The amnesiac, the nympho nun, the streetwalker, the accountant, the assassins. It almost sounds like it could be the beginning of Chaucer�s tales from Canterbury, doesn�t it? A cast of eccentric and nuanced characters whose own separate stories all weave in between each other before they reach their final, ultimate destination.
I must say, when I originally took on the sacrificial task of entering into the White Elephant Blogathon, I really didn�t expect to be viewing a film quite like this. Based on the history and details of the event, I expected to be on the receiving end of some truly atrocious cinema, stuff that at best would be hilariously awful and at worst soul-wrenchingly boring.
Surprisingly, Amateur wasn�t all that bad.

Three souls searching. And one really bad Monday.
The plot itself, on its surface at least, could describe a big-budget Hollywood action flick. A man awakens in an alley, completely devoid of any idea of who he is and what has happened to him. He soon meets an ex-nun, Isabelle, who busies herself with writing sex novels. What this man doesn�t realize is that his amnesia has been caused by an attempted murder perpetrated by his porn star/prostitute wife who was fed up with his asshat-ways.
Said wife gets tangled in a plot with the accountant of an arms dealer when the accountant retrieves a set of floppy disks that contain very delicate information. After the porn star blackmails the dealer for a million dollars, the criminal sends two hit men out to get the disks and slaughter anyone who gets in their way. With Isabelle taking on the mission of helping the amnesiac regain his identity, all of our players eventually collide head on and many spills and hijinks ensue.
In a nutshell.
Too cool for school.
What separates Amateur from the type of film you would expect to have such a storyline is the approach director Hal Hartley takes to the material. There are really no explosions, gratuitous violence, or (surprisingly) nudity to speak of. Amateur is one of dem "sophisticated" pictures. It has blockbuster plot elements but is manipulated by the hands of a dedicated student straight from the art house.
It�s this overall feel that I suspect may be the reason behind this film being included in the blogathon. It�s one of those movies whose accomplishments can be utterly destroyed if the viewer goes in expecting certain things to happen. I myself was a tad jarred by the odd flickering edits and the seemingly random snippets of offbeat dialogue. It took some warming up to, but eventually I felt myself settling into its quirky grooves. If not fully, than at least a little.
There are doses of humor in the movie. Equal parts dry, witty, and dark, it�s not your typical slapstick or broad physical acting. Instead, the comedy seems to come from the characters themselves. Their little quips and behaviors are only a natural way to cope with all the grim craziness going on around them. Nothing is strictly played for laughs in the movie. All the jokes and slightly exaggerated circumstances stem from the personalities of the characters themselves and it�s that that brings Amateur up a slight degree on the smart scale.
Tango, mon amour?
It really is a theatrical piece when you think about it. The characters are what really drive the action, as opposed to the other way around. They�re all rather skillfully developed and acted by the impressive lineup of performers. Although each of them really do shine, I admit to being slightly partial to Martin Donovan as our amnesiac friend Thomas. His speech patterns and mannerisms can�t help but remind me of Richard Thomas: his soothing voice and good looks are a potent combination. When it�s revealed that Thomas was not a particularly nice fellow before his spill (he had promised to slice his wife�s face off with a razor just before she helped him out the window), it�s actually quite easy to imagine Donovan�s "Mr. Hyde" side. Despite Donovan being quite charming for the whole film, we can see that insidious Id lurking just below those icy but peaceful blue eyes of his.
At its heart, the movie is a drama of the most traditional kind, albeit tinged with snippets of dry humor. It�s the story about a quest to that ultimate goal, all of our heroes going through trials and tribulations to gain what they desire most: redemption, closure, freedom, you name it. And most of the characters do find what they�ve been looking for, in some form or another.
Inspiring one life at a time.
Perhaps most touchingly of all, Thomas finally hears the sound of his own name. But it comes just a moment too late. He begins to exit a convent and Isabelle, realizing that a police firing squad waits outside, runs frantically to him. She calls out his name, he turns, the doors swing open� It�s a powerful moment and a rather fitting if bittersweet end to this tragi-comedy.
If I did have to make one complaint against the film, it would probably be the pacing. It�s only an hour and forty minutes long, but you can FEEL each second ticking away. My eyes gravitated towards the timer on more than one occasion. Not that I necessarily didn�t expect that to happen when signing up for the White Elephant Blogathon, but I was surprised and a little dismayed to find myself tapping my watch during a movie that, on the whole, I really did like. Some might call the pace of Amateur downright sluggish, but I realize that the intimate look into the characters� minds that Hartley is attempting to give to us necessitates the calm and measured rate of the action.
Jesus Christ, we haven't reached the half-hour mark yet?!
So what�s the verdict? Believe or not, I genuinely enjoyed Amateur. Here I was thinking that Divine Fate would surely punish me for cursing a fellow blogger with such cinematic plague as Diary of a Cannibal.* But instead I�ve been given the chance to see a film that has hitherto been unknown to me (and I think the majority of people) only to find that there are quite a few gold nuggets to be found in this emotionally turgid river.
So thank you, [Insert Benefactor�s Name Here], for giving me the chance to watch Amateur. Whether you personally hate the film or adore it, I shake your hand for granting me the opportunity to sit down to some viewings that I mostly likely never would have done voluntarily. Perhaps I may never see this low key gem again, but I�m grateful for having gotten the chance to give it a spin at least once.
*Apologies to Bryce over at Things That Don�t Suck!
One Big Happy

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