Dir/scr: Hal Hartley. US. 2006. 118mins.

Hal Hartley's droll sense of humourand slightly off-kilter cinematic technique has never been to everyone's taste,but hardcore fans will enjoy Fay Grim,a sequel of sorts to his breakout 1998 hit HenryFool. Others, however, may find what Hartley calls an 'internationalespionage farce' more than a bit slow in spots, something not helped by itsself-indulgent two-hour running time. Still, gorgeous production values and itsself-aware, postmodern-lite screenplay andperformance style should make it a solid if modest performer, both theatricallyand on DVD, wherever the aesthetically hip and off-beat is prized.

It's difficult to describe aHartley film: like Almodovar's melodramas, the plotsare meant to be taken both seriously and ironically at the same time. You hopeand fear for the characters, identifying fully with their travails, whilelaughing simultaneously at the all-too-obvious contrivances. Otherwise, ofcourse, the directors couldn't be more different: despite their self-awareness,Hartley usually injects a purposely dry intellectual and literary feel into hisfilms (Thomas Pynchon comes especially to mind), Almodovar goes straight for laughs and tears.

As audiences familiar with Henry Fool already know, Fay Grim(Posey) is the wife of Fool (Ryan), a ne'er-do-well who disappeared after beinginvolved in an accidental killing. Her brother Simon Grim (Urbaniak),a former trash collector, has become a Nobel prize-winning poet and is nowserving a lengthy jail sentence for abetting Henry's escape.

When the sequel begins, aCIA agent named Fulbright (Goldblum) is trying tolocate Henry for complicated reasons that defy summary. He enlists Fay andSimon, who has come to believe that Henry's apparently worthless literary scribblings harbor a secret history of recent geopoliticalshenanigans, in his efforts. Eventually Fay finds herself criss-crossingEurope as she becomes involved in variouspolitical dealings.

Part of the humour of Fay Grimis that the constant permutations of the plot are completely impossible tofollow. However, the chuckles begin to diminish once a certain level ofpurposely ridiculous complexity, involving virtually every government on theface of the earth and every noteworthy event of the last two decades,has been reached.

In the last third, though,Hartley seems to move toward a more serious - if still cloaked in absurdity -sociopolitical critique of America'sposition in the world, although its exact parameters remain murky at best.

It is not easy to play oneof Hartley's contradictory postmodern characters, and the cast, especially Poseyand Goldblum, are superb, giving slightly unreal, stylised performances.

Hartley's Mamet-like, purposefully artificial dialogue seems to havebeen somewhat tamed over the years, but still seems perky enough to keep theaudience's attention. Genres - slapstick comedy, domestic family drama, crimethriller, espionage thriller - come and go, including some hilarious slapstickbits involving mobile telephones.

Production design, awash inbeautifully cold and vivid primary colors, is a constant treat, as is thecinematography, with the camera held at a slightly canted angle throughout, asif to suggest the off-balance world being captured by the lens.

A richly ironicHitchcock-like score similarly abets the film's ongoing, purposeful ambiguity.

Production companies/backers
HDNet Films
Possible Films
This Is That, Zero Fiction

International sales
HDNet Films

US distribution
Magnolia Pictures

Executive producers
Mark Cuban
Todd Wagner
Ted Hope

Hal Hartley
Michael S Ryan
Martin Hagemann
Jason Kiot
Joana Vicente

Sarah Cawley Cabiya

Hal Hartley

Production design
Richard Sylvarnes

Hal Hartley

Main cast
Parker Posey
Jeff Goldblum
James Urbaniak
Elina Loewensohn
Saffron Burrows
Liam Aiken
Thomas Jay Ryan