After years of toiling in cult obscurity, independent film darling Hal Hartley scored a measure of mainstream acclaim with Henry Fool, an expansive meditation on art, subjectivity, pop culture, identity, and influence. This story of a garbage man inspired to write prize-winning poetry by a depraved, would-be philosopher bears the hallmarks of a characteristic Hartley film: mannered performances, stylized dialogue, precise compositions, and deadpan humor. What's unusual about this Hartley effort is the scale. Working on a larger canvas, Hartley inflates his typically self-contained world, crafting a narrative that spans years and that covers a dizzying array of disparate themes. Not all the riffs cohere into persuasive points, and the film's ambitious reach at times leaves certain thematic forays underexplored. Nonetheless, the surfeit of ideas is breathtaking, as is Hartley's mastery of an idiosyncratic, minimalist style. Anomalous as it sounds, this thoughtful and rigorous film is Hartley's epic. This film won the best screenplay award at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
by Elbert Ventura review