Hal Hartley, the independent film director, has seen hell and he's seen Long Island -- and Long Island's worse.
His new "Trust," opening today at the Charles, is another examination of that heart of darkness lurking just a long and bumpy commute out of Manhattan, a loveless, dreary desert of human emptiness and deceit. And that's just the train station!
Imagine Diane Arbus' visual sensibility as illustrated by the narcotizing, elliptical and profane dialogue of David Mamet, and you have a good sense of the Hartley method, somewhat refined here beyond the preliminary investigations he made in his last film, "The Unbelievable Truth."
In the dullest of 'burbs, he finds bizarre, exaggerated behavior and imagery that is lurid and astonishing not in spite of, but because of, its roots in American banality. He loves to photograph suburban icons as if they're art deco statuettes from the Nazi era; visually, "Trust" is a trip through a theme park of towering inanity while its characters spit out their angst in gobs of minimalist poetry.
Basically, it inverts the typical Hollywood boy-meets-girl formula into something somehow menacing and yet ultimately moving.
Girl: Pregnant Maria, dumped by her boyfriend, has just been so smart to her dad (he's one of those poor men in the minor uniform of an appliance repair unit, with a bright BOB name tag on his chest) that he's responded by slapping her and dropping dead.
Boy: Matthew has lost his 10th job, and for the 10th time his father (also in one of those uniforms) has beaten the stuffing out of him.
The meet-part is next, only they don't meet cute but crummy, in a deserted house where both have fled the brutality and hopelessness of their lives. Then the movie follows their twisted paths, particularly as it reverberates into the rest of their lives. Of course the subtext is salvation: Maria, introduced to a world of ideas and passions by Matthew, gives up her cheesy ways and before our very eyes transmogrifies into the very model of intellectual curiosity. Meanwhile, Matthew, a sort of loony dreamer of the computer world, brilliant but wild, finds something in the world worth caring about.
Hartley has one weird stroke. He casts unknown actors who look just like stars. Thus its possible to squint and see up there, in the personages of Adrienne Shelly and Martin Donovan, who play Maria and Matthew, the likenesses of Rosanna Arquette and Andrew McCarthy, whom they resemble ferociously.
The weirdness, however, goes further: Imagine a movie staring Rosanna Arquette and Andrew McCarthy that was brilliantly acted! What kind of science fiction are we talking? Is this an alternate world or what?
Starring Adrienne Shelly and Martin Donovan.
Directed by Hal Hartley.
Released by Fine Line.