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By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Fay Grim (2006, ***)

faygrim_1.jpgA WICKED BEDAZZLEMENT AND SOME SORT OF FUCKED-UP TREASURE, Hal Hartley’s comedy-turned-terror Fay Grim is as misunderstood (and darkly subversive) as the deepest runnels of American foreign policy. A ton of reviewers hate the fact that Hartley’s unexpected return to form begins as a comedy and matures into something angrier and much, much less than hopeful: can the clever yet smarmily arrogant Henry Fool face up to an Osama Bin Laden figure? Or did Fool inspire a generation of jihadists? This is dastardly stuff, with lots of deadpan jokes, nicely embroidered if difficult to follow paranoia, and intermittent beauty.
A sequel of sorts to Hartley’s 1998 Henry Fool, the mannered writer-director’s tenth feature stars Parker Posey as single mother Fay Grim, from Woodside, Queens, who’s raising 14-year-old Ned (Liam Aikin, from Henry Fool and Lemony Snicket) in the shadow of the reputation of his disappeared dad, that crude brawler of a Zelig, Forrest Gump savant and polymath who has more secret pasts than most of us have socks. Something’s happened: two CIA men, including Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum, gorging on Hartley’s meritorious mouthfuls), prompt Fay into a welter of international intrigue that’s been prompted by notebooks left behind by Henry, and interpreted by her imprisoned brother, Simon (James Urbaniak, with customary dour depth) and Simon’s publisher of his jailhouse poetry, Angus (Chuck Montgomery, all beard and baritone). There are consistent, insistent bursts of gratifying grandiloquence that could well be inspired by the lavish, logorrheic, lovely Don DeLillo. A typically flavorful passage from this world where literature matters as much as anything comes when Fay’s trying to figure out why the notebooks are so important to so many governments, and Angus says, “Iconoclastic avant garde poetry of the kind your brother has come to personify, this marginal yet vital form of artistic expression, it is becoming less and less popular in America… But I have an idea.” Then again, Hartley’s not above paraphrasing Goebbels’ “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver,” by writing “Why is it when I hear someone talk about ‘civilization,’ I hear machineguns?”


faygrim_2.jpgFrom glimpsing a range spiteful and dismissive reviews, I figure that Fay Grimis a movie that may amuse and amaze only a few people, a verdict shared by Magnolia/Landmark/HDNet Films who have cut back on the movie’s release in anticipation of its Tuesday DVD release. (“Why don’t you make movies like The Unbelievable Truth anymore, Mr. Hartley?”) Aw fuck it, they’re wrong, their instincts are spinach, and I say to hell with it. Fay Grimis a subversive masterpiece and let me tell you, I’ve deliberated long and hard on that and I’m content to claim that after a third viewing. (It’s worth seeing on the big screen, where cinematographer Sarah Cawley Cabiya’s richly colored images and intent focus on the light in characters’ eyes shines best).
Glib and glam, Fay Grimis a fashionably appointed batshit-crazy clutsterfuck, best-friend-will-turn-on-you ratfuck. (And of course I mean that in only the nicest way.) I’ll pass over in silence Hartley’s habit of canting the angle of every widescreen shot, but beyond that tic, I was tickled and thrilled and horrified beyond belief from start to finish. Contrived? Hell, yes. Talky? It’s Hal Hartley. Filled with stop-start roundelays of conspiratorial mayhem? Hartley’s an American citizen living in Berlin, f’chrissakes. Hartley dwells on the modest notebooks, a few fake marble Mead comp books, a stack of seven, a varied life within. The look of the move is as if someone jetlagged yet Macchiatoed were to go to the Edicola bookstore in Milan’s Malpensa airport and tear pages from Italian fashion magazines like Lei and shuffled their pages with the nearby paperbacks of international intrigue with intuition rather than logic. “Civilization, Fay,” Goldblum murmurs at one point, “Shit happens.”
”It’s called plausible deniability, mom,” Ned tells Fay in response to all the compartmentalizing she’s finding the larger world built from. faygrim_7.jpgBut she loves him, even if it’s tough love: “Go away, you conceited little monster.” (We’ve just found out he was expelled from school after something he was caught doing after a lovely shot where two teenage girls in school skirts standing midway up a flight of stairs, looking down on him like eager raptors ready to swoop.”
The women Hartley adores all come off wondrously: there’s the leg-baring Posey in a long black spy sheath, in a state of constant sexual perturbation, offering up a performance more moist than twitchy (even if the cell set to silent she’s shoved into her panties didn’t keep going off). Who wouldn’t relish the image of Posey surrounded by a surging SWAT team at a nice hotel? Elina Löwensohn is the mysterious one, as in earlier Hartley films. The taciturn bad woman is Saffron Burrows, whose breccial facial features of near-granite boniness are awe-inspiring in the HD light.
A grab-bag of wordy wonder, starting with one of Hartley’s characteristic, gnomic key lines: “An honest man is always in trouble.” And: “It’s all Greek to me, Fulbright, I’m going home”; “We think Faye’s been roped into some kind of international espionage, Father”; “how goes the Jihad, you cheap fuck?” “Hey, I was suave enough in my day.”
Eventually, Fay finds out about her man, and the movie becomes a parable of searching for other ghosts, such as Bin Laden, and how a culture allows those ghosts him to evaporate again and again, to nourish the least kindly reaches of the zeitgeist. Hartley goes to a deep, dark place, but he also gives us Posey in boots and then black, ornamented Turkish widow’s weeds on the streets of Istanbul and Löwensohn in a rocker in profile, quietly, compulsively nourishing herself with a cookie. The DVD includes an episode of “Higher Definition” focusing on Fay Grim; a making-of; deleted scenes; and Hartley’s own trailer for the pic. [Ray Pride.]
[Fay Grimopens Friday, mostly at Landmark locations, in Atlanta, Austin, Berkeley, Cambridge, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Hartford, Huntington, NY, Huntsville, Manhattan, Minneapolis, Palm Desert, Palo Alto, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Ana, Santa Fe, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington D.C., and L.A.’s NuArt. It also plays on the hard-to-find HDNet Movies later this week, and on Magnolia DVD on Tuesday May 22.]

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