May this filmmaker remain eccentric and original in his success.
In "Henry Fool," Hal Hartley is still turning his theories on a spit--poking, prodding, and tending them curiously until we fall into his mood and become captivated. His earlier film,"Flirt," was a funny and provocative statement about commitment, betrayal, and indecision delivered in bold colors and direct language. He told us that we humans take ourselves far so seriously that we reason love right out of our lives.
Still battling the human tendency to reduce big themes to simple terms, Hartley has created Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), a lodger who rents a room and changes the lives of everyone in the house. Henry sees the big themes very clearly, along with the middling and small ones too; and he doesn't hesitate to bestow his philosophy on anyone he wants to help.
He first meets Simon Grim (James Urbaniak), then Simon's sister,Fay (Parker Posey), and their mother, Mary (Maria Porter). Simon, a garbage collector who rarely speaks, comes home to eat silently in a kitchen scene sketched so expertly that a minute tells us all about family life in this house. Of course, Henry is quiet. What is there to say in a family as unhappy as this one?
Fay cooks for the family between bursts of outrage at her lot. When Henry treats Simon like a normal human being, Simon begins to talk a little. He is, it turns out, an observer, an absorber, a listener. "When there's something you want to say, Simon, write it down in this book." And Simon does.
Well might Henry recognize Simon's talent since he himself is writing his memoirs, his "confession." Henry is in exile from an unidentified wrongdoing. "An honest man is always in trouble, Simon, remember that." The long movie unfurls in a series of conversations between the lodger and the quiet one that defines them both with compassion. By telling Simon he is a poet, Henry hands him identity and purpose. Hartley pokes wicked fun at things he doesn't like: the politician mouthing cliches, the bum lifted from the gutter to a business suit by false promises, the media who come round when one of the writers is deemed newsworthy, publishing executives who cling desperately to the latest fad.
All the while, Henry's magic seeps into their lives. The mother plays the piano, Fay looks for a job, Simon scribbles fiercely. A priest observes, "The best parts of Henry come to surface when he's helping people learn." This is a man who allows people to think they can do things.
Hal Hartley is able to interest, and ultimately move us with an apparently superficial story that is actually an intricate one that speaks deeply about loyalty and giving and love. When one of his protagonists is in trouble, Hartley devises a wonderful conspiracy to save him in a way that is both profound and simple. May this filmmaker remain eccentric and original in his success.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Sony Pictures Classics
Rating : R
Running time : NA
Copyright (c) Illusion
Return to Ellis Home Page