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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Amateur (1994)

Thomas: How can you be a nymphomaniac and never had sex?
Isabelle: I'm choosy.

- Martin Donovan, Isabelle Huppert

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: December 07, 2003

Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Martin Donovan, Elina Lowensohn
Other Stars: Damian Young, Chuck Montgomery, Dave Simonds, Pamela Stewart, Erica Gimpel
Director: Hal Hartley

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Run Time: 01h:40m:51s
Release Date: November 11, 2003
UPC: 043396009813
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB-C+ C-

DVD Review

A mild-mannered fellow (Martin Donovan) wakes up face-first on the pavement and has no memory of his identity or past activities. Stumbling into a local diner, the guy (whose actual name is Thomas) tries to pay with Dutch money. Observing this scene is the pornographic writer and self-proclaimed nymphomaniac Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert), who helps Thomas with his amnesia. As the story progresses, we meet his stunning young wife Sofia (Elina Lowensohn), who knows the nasty secrets of their past life. When she makes an unfortunate mistake and reveals their location to the mysterious European boss Mr. Jacques, thugs arrive to permanently eliminate the problem.

Amateur's plot summary reads similar to many generic thrillers that involve apparently innocent people placed into extreme danger. However, this film does not follow the conventional route and instead delivers an odd, unique experience. Hal Hartley (Trust, Flirt) directs the picture with his typical offbeat humor and unconventional characters. His writing reveals strange contradictions within each individual that make little sense, but generally work due to the inventive atmosphere. Isabelle is an attractive woman who spent 15 years in a convent, but now works in a completely opposite social arena. In typical Hartley fashion, she consistently deals with adult matters, but is also a virgin.

Thomas speaks in deadpan fashion and acts congenially towards everyone, but his forgotten history involves nefarious and destructive acts. Is this really the same guy? These contradictions are heightened by the use of Hartley regular Martin Donovan, whose straight-laced image increases the character's harmless appearance. As the tale progresses, we keep expecting the Hollywood payoff where Thomas shows his true colors, but Hartley would never take such a simple route. Slight hints appear that suggest a different past, but they never explicitly reveal the character's bad side. Most of our exposition comes from Sofia, who remains frightened of Thomas' role in her young life. Her comments seem reliable, which makes our perception of the current events even more contradictory.

This story utilizes typical scenes viewed before in many crime dramas but keeps them interesting by providing a much different take. Mr. Jacques' goons look like straight-laced Wall Street guys who wear suits and act very professionally. One speaks about his past accounting work, and the other seems to possess considerable knowledge of economics. They participate in a torture scene that mimics other action films, but the tone is so odd that it doesn't feel generic. A second "girl in distress" possible torture moment also lacks tension, but the scene reveals some interesting plot elements about Thomas. The final shootout is especially different, with a crazed guy circling his victim and firing on him from a variety of odd angles. One of the largest changeups definitely occurs at the conclusion, where a last-minute surprise alters the more predictable ending.

Amateur generates a wide array of responses depending on your acceptance of Hartley’s deadpan humor and variance of plot conventions. The pace moves pretty slowly, and Huppert isn't totally convincing as Isabelle, but it still provides an entertaining ride. Donovan gives one of the more effective portrayals of amnesia on screen, and Lowensohn makes her striking character believable. There are few truly exciting moments, but the interesting route and clever dialogue keep the story memorable. The tale drags a bit too much in the last act, but Hartley's eccentric style helps to provide a distinctive experience.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.55:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Amateur appears in an odd 1.55:1 transfer that nearly basically functions as a full-frame presentation but does include very small black bars across the top and bottom edges of the screen. The picture lacks the sharpness of the better widescreen transfers, but it does offer decent clarity and few major defects. The grain isn't too prevalent, which helps to deliver an acceptable viewing.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: This release carries an uninspiring 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track that does not sound much better than your typical mono transfer. The audio works fairly clearly, but it remains extremely centralized and doesn't move well between the front speakers. The impressive soundtrack is pushed well into the background and does not complement the story enough. The dialogue remains understandable, but the crispness often associated with Dolby transfers is generally missing.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Auto Focus; Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Spun; The Princess and the Warrior
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This disc's only notable supplement is Professional Amateurs: The Making of Amateur, a 14-minute featurette that includes interviews with the cast and director Hal Hartley. Everyone speaks honestly about their experiences, and it avoids the dull promotional nature of these types of pieces. We also view some production footage of a few scenes being filmed. The only other extras are four preview trailers for some other unique pictures. Three of them utilize decent widescreen transfers, with only Sex, Lies, and Videotape using a mediocre full-frame picture.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

I initially viewed Amateur during its theatrical run and wasn't very impressed with its odd style. Upon a second viewing, however, it's easier to spot the clever aspects without being concerned with the plot specifics. The witty dialogue stands out more and reveals writer/director Hal Hartley's talents. It's still not a film for everyone, but should do well with audiences in tune with his delivery.


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