In an ongoing series, TIM WONG scouts for new and elusive films that either have fallen off the radar, or are yet to see the light of day in New Zealand.

BRINGING together Hal Hartley and Parker Posey for this left-of-field sequel to Henry Fool is not the continuing saga of a garbageman-turned-poet laureate and his rogue mentor of letters, but the conspicuous dutch angle, common ground for two off-kilter indie favourites whose screen idiosyncrasies appear to miraculously converge at the tilt of a camera. Channelling The Third Man, Hartley goes dutch in his latest – a peculiar espionage thriller branched from the corridors of the literary world – shooting the entire movie at approximately nine degrees, and of the cast it’s only Posey who really seems at home. A chameleon of various shades of crazy, framing her on the slant makes perfect sense – both as a metaphor for the actress and an affectionate ode to her cult.

In Fay Grim, Posey plays the eponymous single mother of the film, caring for a teenage son while surviving off her brother’s royalties years after husband Henry split from the law. Locked up for aiding and abetting his escape, Simon Grim – the former waste manager, now Nobel Prize-winning author – is granted a reprieve on the proviso his sister cooperates with the CIA: just so happens gutter novelist Fool is alive and well, and that his notebook-scrawled tome is actually a coded document of sensitive national secrets. As Fay travels to Paris, her mission to retrieve several volumes from Henry’s oeuvre, Hartley takes in assorted detours: Jeff Goldblum and Leo Fitzpatrick (!) as federal agents; Saffron Burrows packing heat; from Amateur, the ditzy Elina Löwensohn makes a rather arbitrary, if welcome appearance; situated in France, all that’s really missing is a cameo from Isabelle Huppert. Elsewhere, Thomas Jay Ryan as Henry barely registers on the map, an appropriately clandestine figure under the veil of a terrorist cell, while James Urbaniak is unresponsively beige at best – if there’s a Simon Grim in the works, here’s hoping his character forms a personality in the interim.

Post-Henry Fool, nearly a decade has passed since Hartley’s breakthrough (which, conversly, was not the career catalyst it ought to have been), and even if Fay Grim is nestled expressly in a brave new, post-9/11 world, there’s very little – political, or otherwise – going on to warrant further interrogation. Hartley is his usual rambling, referential self, resolute in the offbeat rhythms and tonal fluctuations of his previous films, yet is rather off key on the deadpan this time around, and is perhaps hindered, budget-wise, on accessorising his genre excursion with a decent set piece – although as an apt substitute, the film’s staccato action sequences fly knowingly in the face of The Bourne Ultimatum’s screeching, full-bore assault.

A possible reason for Hartley’s failure to kick on lingers in Fay Grim: by design, it’s neither here nor there, with the director circumventing easy categorisation – and therefore, broader appeal – with some stubbornly unorthodox moments. It is, however, absolutely a Parker Posey film, and those lamenting her relegation to the sidelines of late – regardless how adept she is at stealing scenes in supporting roles – will recognise in Fay Grim, along with every other movie she’s taken the lead in, an anomaly in her element. Even here, it matters little that she’s in clone mode, having starred the same year in tepid sex comedy The Oh! in Ohio. In a virtual replay of a scene from that film, Posey’s Fay Grim, all catwalk minx in designer overcoat, reaches between the garment’s crotch-high leg slit, and into her panties to pocket a cellphone. Sure enough, it rings on vibrate mode – not quite a patch on Sook-Yin Lee’s hysterical reaction in Shortbus (yanking a sex toy from her body, she proceeds to beat it against the pavement with a wooden leg!), but a far-from-grim moment augmented by an actress of wonderfully incongruous talent.

Fay Grim is currently available on Region 1 DVD.