By DONALD PORTER
The landscape of the American cinema is littered with enormously talented people you've never heard of. Hal Hartley is a writer-director you probably don’t know, and that’s too bad. His previous films, “Trust,” “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Simple Men,” are gems savored by the select few who saw them play in art houses or festivals or, possibly, who rented them by accident at the video store.
Now comes Hartley’s latest, “Amateur,” and he’s lost none of his edge or his talent for finding humor in the oddest places.
“Amateur” stars frequent Hartley collaborator Martin Donovan as a man who awakens in a New York City alley, injured and suffering amnesia. He wanders into a cafe, his head bleeding, and is rescued by a former nun, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert). She takes him home, and together they set about trying to find out just who he is.
Hartley then introduces a parallel plot -- something about a former porn star, Sofia (Elina Lowensohn), on the run from a pack of vicious thugs who work for a European mob boss. But Sofia is somehow connected to Donovan’s mystery man, and we begin to suspect that the amnesiac might have a terribly dark history.
Revealing any more of the story would be a great disservice, because much of the fun in a Hartley film is watching the plot spin ’round and ’round in smaller and smaller concentric circles. (I will say, however, that Hartley leaves a mighty huge surprise -- which could stir some healthy debate among those who see this movie -- until the film’s last moments.)
The filmmaker is perhaps best known for his droll, deadpan dialogue. His characters say the most outrageous things in such even tones that you have to stay sharp so the jokes don’t zip right over your head.
And Hartley is a master of the absurd situation. His talent is singular. His humor is thoughtful and darkly ironic. You’ll enjoy “Amateur.”