Isabelle Huppert wrote directly to Hal Hartley and asked whether he’d be interested in working together; thrilled, he created the part of Isabelle in Amateur, a nun who leaves her convent after 15 years to discover sex in the big city. "Good film actresses," he said, "it's all about tension. They want to feel, they want to emote, but they're up against a medium that's essentially a machine. Isabelle understands that very well."

Hal Hartley makes movies that take place resolutely in the real world”, wrote Roger Ebert, “Insisting on their flat, realistic dialogue and deadpan characters even while the storyline takes flight for the far shores of fancy.” Amateur’s self-consciously zany momentum is undercut by the brutality of the violence that propels the plot, and which threatens to overwhelm the trio as they race against the inevitable.

Isabelle and Thomas are drawn to one another because they each harbour a deep bewilderment; while Thomas doesn’t know where he has come from, Isabelle doesn’t know where she’s going, having very little sense of the world as it exists. This film is about reinvention: the possibility that leaving a place, a relationship (or the entirely of one’s past memories) behind allows for life to change its appearance completely. Yet the past – and particularly one’s past choices – often end up catching up with you, much as you try to flee.

The three characters are amateurs in different ways: Isabelle because of her cloistered convent life, Thomas due to his brain injury, and Sofia because of Thomas’s manipulation in her early years. Hartley himself said of his first feature film, The Unbelievable Truth (included in season seven of TANKtv, On Verisimilitude) that he “cringes” when he looks back: “I should not have been that innocent by that point. No, and in any event it’s impossible. You can’t return to innocence.” The amateur might risk embarrassment, but it’s a small price to pay for clarity of vision and creative buoyancy. ◉

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