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  Unbelievable Truth, The A General Dissatisfaction With Everything
Year: 1989
Director: Hal Hartley
Stars: Adrienne Shelly, Robert John Burke, Chris Cooke, Julia McNeal, Katherine Mayfield, Gary Sauer, Mark Chandler Bailey, David Healey, Matt Malloy, Edie Falco, Jeff Howard, Kelly Reichardt, Ross Turner, Paul Schulze, Mike Brady, Bill Sage, Tom Thon
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Josh (Robert John Burke) is hitchhiking to his home town, not having anywhere else to go, but nobody is stopping for him until a car breaks down and parks on the hard shoulder. Being skilled in mechanics, he is able to help the driver get his car started and in return receives a lift, or at least he does until he admits he is fresh out of prison, which leads the driver to stop the vehicle and order him out. He does get another lift, and soon is back at the place he left all that while ago, though nobody is happy to see him, what with the rumours and all...

Make that almost nobody, because there is one girl who is intrigued by his presence, and she is Audry Hugo, played by Adrienne Shelly, the actress who more than anybody brought the films of Hal Hartley into the pop culture consciousness. With this, her screen debut, and her following film Trust she brought a generation to American indie cinema hoping to get the same buzz from the characters therein that she generated for them there, and she stayed true to her indie roots for the rest of her career, not to mention remaining the darling of film fans worldwide who appreciated such efforts.

But now, watching her is a lot more poignant knowing that she was murdered aged forty, leaving a young daughter and a husband behind and all those fans and those whose minds she had slipped shocked and bewildered. This has, if anything, made those Hartley starring roles she took at the beginning of her career all the more precious, and while there were sceptics as to the director's virtues even at the time this was released there would be few who doubted the worth Shelly brought to them. In her character of Audry, she depicted what would be dismissed as excessive indie quirks by many if she had not been so, well, believable.

Audry is about to start college, but that's not the reason she "forgets" about attending high school, the real reason is that she is obsessed with the idea that the world is about to end, likely thanks to the Cold War bringing about nuclear armageddon. Most people saw this after that period was over, but that studied yet naive nihilism was something which struck a chord, mainly because the sort of person who would enjoy this film was the sort of person who could completely relate to Audry's feelings of helplessness in the face of forces far more vast and powerful than she could do anything to change. So when this mysterious not-quite-stranger enters her life, she is immediately intrigued.

Nobody in town can make up their minds what Josh is supposed to have done, but they're pretty sure he was convicted of murder even if the details escape them. He gets a job with Audry's father (Chris Cooke), an amusingly temper-prone chap who wants the best, but is constantly frustrated: every character here finds themselves in the same position, with their plans going awry when real life intrudes. When Mr Hugo gets his daughter a job to pay for her acceptance to Harvard (she had to go for the most expensive university, didn't she?), it puts her on a path to becoming a model, which leads to "tasteful" nudity in magazine advertisements, leaving him apopleptic that yet again his hopes have been distorted. But what of the unelievable truth of the title? That's connected to what Josh's crime really was, a state of affairs even he didn't grasp, and the message of people making up their own minds about others with only rumour and gossip to go by. There was more to this, which in its deliberately stilted, mannered way led to new avenues for "dialogue is king" indie film. Music by Jim Coleman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Hal Hartley  (1959 - )

Intelligent American writer and director who deals with with themes of love and the family in a humourous, distinctively talky style. His best films are his first three - The Unbelievable Truth, Trust and Simple Men - all of which combine a sharp wit with melancholy edge to produce affecting portraits of small town American life. Since then, Hartley's best work has been in short films like Surviving Desire, NYC 3/94 and The Book of Life, but Amateur, Flirt and Henry Fool are still intriguing, with only 2001's bizarre No Such Thing an out-and-out failure. Regularly uses the same actors, including Martin Donovan, Robert Burke, Elina Löwensohn and Adrienne Shelly.

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