US, 1994, 105 minutes, Colour.
Isabel Huppert, Martin Donovan, Elena Lowensohn, Damian Young, Chuck Montgomery, Pamela Stewart.
Directed by Hal Hartley.
In the 1980s and 1990s, independent film-maker Hal Hartley, who wrote and directed his material, had a strong reputation as an independent and thoughtful film-maker. His small-budget films included The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, Surviving Desire. He also made Simple Men and Flirt. However, Amateur was an ambitious film – and was not successfully received.
After Amateur he made Henry Fool but did not achieve prominence in the next decade as he did earlier. His films, however, included No Such Thing with Julie Christie and Sarah Polley as well as Fay Grim, with Parker Posey.
Amateur has a bizarre plot. This is the film where we see Isabelle Huppert as a former nun, wanting a special mission from God, making a living writing pornographic novels. She picks up a man with amnesia (Martin Donovan who appeared in many of the earlier Hartley films) who seems a gentle man but in fact is a notorious pornographer. He had made his wife a star in his films – and she is on the run because she thinks she has killed him.
1.The reputation of Hal Hartley, his films, offbeat? Verbal, images illustrating the verbal? Laconic? His characters and plot at a tangent to what characters would expect?
2.The New York settings, the streets, apartments, shops, the world of criminals, pornography? The musical score?
3.The title, the characters and their amateur attitude their work? The alleged comment that Hartley saw himself as an amateur in film-making?
4.The convolutions of the plot, the focus on a range of characters, their interconnections and interactions? The issue of amnesia?
5.The focus on Thomas, his having been assaulted, in the alley, seemingly dead? The woman, looking at him, running away? His getting up, coming into the coffee shop, the encounter with Isabel? His realisation that he was suffering from amnesia? Isabel taking him in, caring for him? His sleep, talking, his aggressive attitude towards Sofia? It emerging that Thomas was her husband, his viciousness, her being in prostitution, pornography? His attempts at blackmail, with Jacques, the Dutch businessman? Thomas’s gang? Thomas and Isabel, the realisation who Sofia was, their search for her? The relationship between Thomas and Isabel, her dressing in Sofia’s clothes, the sexual attraction? Hiding when the tough men arrive? Watching what happened to Sofia? Their coming out of hiding, their killing Kurt and his falling to his death? Their making off, with Sofia, in Jan’s car? Sofia, her attitude towards Thomas, her not filling in his background, his bewilderment? The killings, their taking Sofia to the old convent? Sofia explaining who Thomas is? His going to the gate, his being shot? The portrait of an enigmatic man?
6.Sofia, her relationship with Thomas, running away from the alley? Her dislike of Thomas, his pressure on her, prostitution and the pornographic films? Her going to the accountant, her explaining to Edward that she has killed her husband? The irony of her phone calls, the toughs coming after her, her escape? Her going to the apartment, her being tied up by the hitmen, her being saved by Thomas and Isabel, the escape? Edward and his wanting to find Sofia? Sofia finally telling Thomas about himself? Her being shot by Jan? Her being taken to the old convent, her recovery?
7.Isabel, a former nun, in the coffee shop, the reason for her leaving the convent? Her trying to write pornography? Her response to Thomas, caring for him, listening to him in his sleep? Her going with Thomas to find Sofia’s apartment, getting into Sofia’s clothes, the attempt to make love, their hiding, helping Sofia, the escape? Isabel and her wanting to know the truth, taking the wounded Sofia to the old convent? Her learning the truth? Isabel not affected – and her future?
8.The underworld of criminals, Edward, the accountant, listening to Sofia? The attack by the hitmen, their torturing Edward, his desperation, trying to get to Sofia, his being arrested, shooting the police and taking the car? His killing Jan?
9.Jan, the Dutchman, the businessman, his arrival at Sofia’s apartment, with Kurt? Kurt’s death as he prepared to torture Sofia? Jan and the contact with Jacques? Jan and his being shot by Edward? The hitmen, their brutality, the deaths?
10.The police, the young policewoman, her naivety, wanting to help?
11.The range of supporting characters giving atmosphere, the waitress, the cook, the doorman at the club, the detectives, the bartenders, taxi drivers, George the pornographer, the boy reading The Odyssey, the video store clerk, the pizza man? Filling in this real/surreal background?
12.The quality of the dialogue, witty, enigmatic, the deadpan cleverness?
13.An art film, response to its drama, characters, the issues emerging from this kind of squalid and violent world?