The Book Of Life

The Book Of Life


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Hal Hartley is too intelligent to be called eccentric. His new film-for-television is about Jesus and the Devil having drinks together on the last day of the 20th century, doing deals for human souls and deciding whether the eve of the millennium is the moment that St John's Revelations make front page news. After Deep Impact and Armageddon, this is a fresh angle on the end of the world.

The photography is startling in its originality, using blurred images and primary colours to great effect. The script, as always with Hartley, is sculpted. His language has a chipped-for-the-new-block sound to it, definitely stylised, yet exact as cut diamonds. The way his actors speak is unique to his movies. Martin Donovan (Jesus) knows Hartley's work so well, he slips into the way of it like a tired foot into an old shoe.

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Jesus comes to New York with Magdalena (the English singer/songwriter, PJ Harvey), a mysterious black-haired, black clothed assistant, to meet His Father's lawyers and discuss the Apocalypse. Meanwhile, the Devil (Thomas Jay Ryan) is already in town, at a hotel bar, being lugubrious and mischievous, assuming the persona of a recovering depressive, with mostly, but not quite all, the best lines.

The film is delightfully obscure and darkly funny, a visual kaleidoscope and musical treat (PJ Harvey, David Byrne, Ben Watt, Yo La Tengo, etc). Donovan is laid back as only he can be, never allowing the flicker of an expression to darken his lightness. As a master of minimalist acting, he is Hartley's representative on earth. Harvey has such dramatic looks, all she has to do is stare at the camera like a spaced-out angel and walk fast in tight trousers as if late for lunch. With every new venture, one thing becomes increasingly clear. HH is an alien. His imagination leaps aeons ahead of mere mortals, which is why some may feel confused.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Jesus and the Devil get together for drinks on the eve of a new century.
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Director: Hal Hartley

Writer: Hal Hartley

Starring: Martin Donovan, P.J. Harvey, Thomas Jay Ryan, Miho Nikaido, Anna Köhler, Martin Pfefferkorn, Layla Alexander, Michael Marisi Ornstein, Paul Albe, Don Creech, Joseph McKenna

Year: 1998

Runtime: 63 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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