Here’s a journey through the crazy, mysterious, utterly original, ultra suicidal characters of Hal Hartley, a genius of American independent cinema. His latest movie, Ned Rifle, will be showcased this month at the Istanbul Film Festival.
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Which movie: The Unbelievable Truth (1989), his first feature film we start to see glimpses of what would become a unique style of cinematography.
Who performs: Robert John Burke, a regular in the leading roles in Hartley’s earlier works
Josh in one line: Josh, who is just out of the prison for a crime we never know if he actually committed, goes back to his hometown and he rolls among the women who are crazy for him, including the most beautiful Audry.
Pessimism ratio: 5/10. Not bad.
How mysterious he is: You can count what we know about him on fingers of one hand.
Where we last see him: We see him staring at an obscure point upon Audry, who is almost sure the world is going to end soon, saying “look at that”
Which movie: Trust (1990), still one of his best-loved movies and his first big boost.
Who performs: Adrienne Shelly, whom we see in the leading roles in Hartley’s first two movies
Maria in one line: As the movie progresses, Maria, previously acting as though her head were in the clouds, transforms into a smart ass, despite the upset mother, sociopath boyfriend Matthew and being pregnant.
Pessimism ratio: 3/10. She’s not that pessimistic. She’s just getting started with life.
Where we last see her: We saw her in the middle of the road, proudly looking after the man she loved.
Which movie: Simple Men (1992), the movie which brought Hartley his first Golden Palm nomination. Simple Men serves as proof that he’s among the most exciting directors of American independent cinema
Who performs: Elina Löwenshon, whom we see and in a total of four Hal Hartley movies.
Elina in one line: An uncanny and mysterious Romanian lady, who’ll keep you on the edge of your seat, with the possibility of an unexpected slap or an epileptic attack.
Pessimism ratio: 6/10. Pessimism turns into some kind of restlessness.
How mysterious she is: A lot. We try to figure out what she’s trying to get through the whole movie.
Where we last see her: We see her on a fishing boat, getting told off by her father in law for not being relaxed.
Which movie: witty and exciting Amateur (1994), where Hartley’s sense of humor gets sharper
Who performs: Isabelle Huppert, who performs in a Hartley movie for the first and last time.
Isabelle in one line: Being a former nun and suspecting she is a nymphomaniac, Isabelle would sit at a café and write short stories for sex magazines while waiting for her divine duty to be sent by God.
Pessimism ratio: 4/10. Not particularly pessimistic. Although she goes through a huge transformation, she never loses hope.
How mysterious she is: Pretty mysterious, as she’s existentially the woman of paradoxes.
Where we last see her: Since revealing the last time we see her would be a spoiler, we could only say that we saw her at peace.
Which movie: Flirt (1995), which focuses on three different and unrelated characters that find themselves in the same situation at different points throughout the film.
Who performs: Dwight Ewell, who also start in two of Hartley’s feature films and one short.
Dwight in one line: Dwight, already confused and restless, having a hard time choosing between two boyfriend, cannot settles down.
Pessimism Ratio: 2/10. Even at his darkest moment, he promises a possibility of a miracle.
How mysterious he is: Not exceptionally just a standard mysteriousness in line with other Hal Hartley character.
Where we last see him: We see him getting into another complicated affair in his turbulent romantic love life, with a broken smile in his face.
Which movie: Henry Fool (1997), one of his most popular movies, it spawned two sequels, and an award for the best screenplay at Cannes.
Who performs: Thomas Jay Ryan, a performer in four other Hartley movies, playing the same character in three of them
Henry in one line: We’re not sure where he’s come from or where he’s going. Henry entertains himself with Fay, who is head over heels in love with Henry, at the same time runs after ridiculous stuff.
Pessimism ratio: 6/10. Although it gives out a little positive energy, nihilism speaks louder here.
How mysterious he is: So mysterious. Even the three sequel movies are not enough to solve his mystery
Last time we see him: The last time we saw Henry, he was either running to catch a flight, or he was running to a flight, or he was running from a flight or he was running to someone. Who knows?
Which movie: unique and questioning, The Book of Life (1998) led the way for Hartley to become more involved with digital cinema
Who performs: One of Hartley’s favorites, Martin Donovan, who is in seven of his feature films and one short
Jesus Christ in one line: Jesus, living in a millennium when everybody thinks the end of the world is nigh, hangs around in bars, making up aphorisms and having long conversations with The Devil; he looks pretty confused and worried
Pessimism ratio: 7/10. We could say Jesus is quite about pessimistic about the way everything is going. There is a slight promise of hope.
How mysterious he is: This is Jesus in flesh and blood,
Last time we see him: We see him staring out of the ferry, thinking about the future
Which movie: No Such Thing (2001), a Good and the Bad adaptation with one of Hartley’s best examples of dialogue.
Who performs: Robert John Burke, whom we see in a total of five Hartley movies
The monster in one line: Although he may look aggressive, pessimist, alcoholic, suicidal and miserable, the monster transforms to be one of the most sympathetic and extraordinary Hartley characters when you actually get closer to him,
Pessimism ratio: 8/10. The monster’s only wish is to die as soon as possible.
How mysterious he is: Although the heroine of the movie, Beatrice, constantly reveals things about him, he manages to stay still mysterious
Last time we see him: We see him inside of a system where he will die, while sharing meaningful looks with Beatrice
Which movie: The sequel to Henry Fool’s, Fay Grim (2006), released nine years later
Who performs: Parker Posey, whom we watch as Fay in three out of four Hartley movies she acts in
Fay in one line: Always anxious, panicked and curious Fay, is a desperate single mother, who has been travelling around the world to find her missing husband
Pessimism Ratio: 3/10. She never actually hits the bottom.
How mysterious she is: She is after the mystery, not the mystery itself
Last time we see her: We see her sitting near the Bosphorus, looking at Henry Fool, who is departing in a boat, in a painful way
Which movie: Ned Rifle (2014), The last movie of trilogy of sequels that started with Henry Fool
Who performs: Liam Aiken, whom we also see in Henry Fool and Fay Grim
Ned in one line: Ned, an aggressive and impatient character, can’t overcome his anger against his father, sets out to find and kill Henry Fool
Pessimism ratio: 7/10. The fury for his father, whom he blames for getting his mother in jail, takes over his life
How mysterious he is: He preserves the mystery he inherited from the father
Last time we see him: We’re waiting for the screenings in Istanbul Film Festival to know and hoping in the meantime we will have more unforgettable characters from Hal Hartley.
(Translation by Ege Yorulmaz)