Hal Hartley’s Amateur (1995) stars Isabelle Huppert, who wanted to work with Hartley after seeing his good film Trust, as a former nun who helps and is attracted to a man with amnesia and a very ugly criminal past which he naturally can’t remember. This ex-nun, a ridiculous character, now writes pornography (!) but at least this establishes her resemblance to another woman who, instead of writing the stuff, acts in it, in porno movies. She does this unhappily; she wants a changed life. It transpires that she is married to the man with amnesia (!), who has treated her abominably and is the cause of her becoming a porno star in the first place. Why this parallel between the actress and Huppert?
First let me comment that I do believe Hartley’s film, despite its childish and inept comedy, has something to say—namely, that outside any kind of religious milieu, redemption is very difficult, slippery, something to grope for. We’re just amateurs at it. Huppert believes she is a nymphomaniac who nevertheless sensed it was God’s will that she enter a convent. Now she thinks God’s will is that she fulfill some sort of mission apart from the convent, which mission just may be her saving the porn actress, Sofia by name, from her amnesic but formerly brutal husband. But this is amateur thinking. It is true that Sofia and her spouse do not get back together, but Huppert has nothing to do with this. Neither does she herself get together with the amnesiac even though she has fallen for him: the film, you see, ends in tragedy. God’s will is often known only imperfectly and often not at all, which is something else the movie says. Sofia, too, does some amateur thinking with respect to redemption, and she ends up getting a man tortured and herself shot! No will of God in this, is there?
Then again, perhaps we should ask whether cosmic retribution figures here. A number of characters besides Sofia get shot or fall out of high windows; could it be they all deserve it? Does Sofia get plugged (though not killed) because she is not only a porn star but also a blackmailer? True, the amnesiac, who also gets shot, is not now brutal and he tells the ex-nun, “I don’t know what I’m sorry for, but I am sorry. That’s got to mean something, right?” But it may mean nothing at all if the fellow’s memory returns and, seeing what he’s missing, he returns to a life of crime, which is surely what would happen. Hartley teases us with possibilities—doing so, I’m afraid, in a flimsy film. Trust and Surviving Desire are the successful Hartley pictures (of those I’ve seen).