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The Unbelievable Truth
First run Seenmorethanonce Theater cinema Screening room

Hal Hartley’s début introduced art-house denizens to a new, deliberately offbeat voice with this darkish comedy that tells the story of a mysterious ex-con named Josh (Robert Burkewho returns to his Long Island hometown and gets a job as an auto mechanic. Most everyone in the town knows Josh killed at least one person, but as to how and how many, that’s mostly speculation and rumour. He becomes involved with the daughter of his boss, a high-schooler named Audry (Adrienne Shelly) who dumps her boyfriend and decides she doesn’t want to go to college because the world will be ending soon, so what’s the point. While essentially an ensemble picture—the town seems to have only ten or twelve residents—Audry quickly rises as the ostensible protagonist. This is partly a function of the script and partly because the acting is so uneven that, with the exception of Shelly, it’s difficult to invest much interest in the rest of the characters. Even Edie Falco (in her second screen performance) shows none of the promise on display in her début Sweet Lorraine (1987), and gives no hint of the remarkable actor she’d become. Hartley’s arch style holds our attention for a bit, but it can’t sustain the picture as it meanders along to its week resolution.

The Unbelievable Truth was part of the crop of quirky 16mm low-budget films that came out in 1989/90 that blazed the trail for the ‘90’s indie revolution. It was shot for $200,000 in 12 days and much of its publicity and buzz centred on that fact. It’s also notable for introducing us to its ingénue Adrienne Shelly, who would go on to star in Hartley’s follow-up, Trust, and then struggle to find good rolls until she wrote, directed, and starred in her own indie hit Waitress (2007), which was released posthumously after she was tragically and randomly murdered. Hartley continued to be a small player in American independent cinema, making similar types of pictures that introduced the world to talents like Martin Donovan, Karen Sillas and Elina Löwensohn.

Twitter Capsule:
Hartley joins the ranks of indie darlings with his deliberately offbeat, and rather pleased with itself, début about an ex-con returning to his Long Island hometown and getting involved with his boss's headstrong daughter.
Directed by Hal Hartley
Written by Hal Hartley

With: Adrienne Shelly, Robert John Burke, Matt Malloy, Edie Falco, and Kelly Reichardt

Cinematography: Michael Spiller
Editing: Hal Hartley
Music: Jim Coleman

Runtime: 90 min
Release Date: 20 July 1989
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1