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I AM GLAD JOEL E. SIEGEL is back reviewing films for Washington City Paper, apparently on a somewhat regular basis. I have found him to be an insightful, informed, fair, and very intelligent critic, and I have real respect for his opinions even when I disagree with him. A case in point is his negative review of Hal Hartley’s Amateur (Film, 6/23).
Siegel, quite fairly, tips us off early in the review that he is not in tune with Hartley’s sensibility, saying “it wasn’t easy to warm” to Hartley’s earlier films. Sensibilities do differ, of course, but I think that Siegel’s lack of sympathy for Hartley’s quirky, understated films that are equal parts comedic and serious has caused him to misread Amateur a bit. I do not find it “affectless” or numb as does Siegel. The film deals—in a quite complex fashion—with human identity and character. The ending, which is somewhat surprising, seems to me meant to cause empathy for a number of characters and serious reflection on the issues the film raises. Serious reflection: Hartley’s ability to provoke this indicates to me that his films are not exercises in postmodern smirking and shrugging (something both Siegel and I seem to agree in disliking intensely), but serious, if quirky, investigations into the human predicament.