THEORY OF ACHIEVEMENT a film by HAL HARTLEY with Bob Gosse, Elina Löwensohn & William Sage. 1991, USA, 18 min. A stylish deadpan comedy and NYC time capsule from the beloved independent filmmaker.


Soon after he began working in the late 80s, Hal Hartley’s place in American independent cinema was assured. An exceptional early run of shorts and features was precocious, prolific, and marked throughout by his signatures – deadpan comedy, hopeless romanticism and rhythmic, infectious mise-en-scène. Theory of Achievement, from the height of this period, is a perfect encapsulation of Hartley’s unique cinematic universe. We’re honored to present this 1991 short in a new restoration’s online premiere, while a major retrospective of Hartley’s work is in progress at New York’s Metrograph.


The short is about an aspiring writer’s attempts to convince his artist friends to abandon Manhattan for Brooklyn, and populated by Hartley’s brilliant eye for idiosyncratic faces and performers – including Romanian actress Elina Löwensohn (Nadja, Schindler’s List, The Forbidden Room) in her debut. Hartley directs them in a playfully choreographed style, equal parts screwball Hollywood comedy and Jean-Luc Godard – whose Prénom Carmen (1983) is paid extended homage in the short’s first few scenes.



“Just graphically, he was making the kind of pictures that I wanted to make. It was like Bresson said, ‘Don’t go showing every side of the thing. It’s the freshness of the particular angle that you see, that’s going to bring the thing to life.’ I think Godard really did that. The kind of economy which is also really deep and expansive.” HAL HARTLEY


Opening in a barely recognizable Williamsburg as Gosse proclaims, “It’s only a matter of time until this neighborhood is the art capital of the world,” the film is a dazzling time capsule of pre-gentrification Brooklyn. It’s also a reminder that Hal Hartley is an essential New York filmmaker, recording the city’s seismic shifts with clarity and humor alongside the adventures of his bumbling, lovestruck heroes.


Hal Hartley was born in Long Island, New York, where he also set his first feature, 1989’s The Unbelievable Truth, starring Adrienne Shelley in her debut role. In 1994 he collaborated with Isabelle Huppert on Amateur, a “metaphysical thriller” about an ex-nun turned criminal, and his 1998 Henry Fool starred Parker Posey and won Best Screenplay at Cannes. Recently he directed eight episodes of Amazon’s Red Oaks, and is currently in pre-production on a new feature, Where to Land.

Credits for
M.C. Bailey, Nick Gomez, Bob Gosse, Jeffrey Howard, Elina Löwensohn, Ingrid Rudefors, William Sage, Jessica Sager & Naledi Tshazibane
written by
Hal Hartley
produced by
Ted Hope & Larry Meistrich
cinematography by
Michael Spiller
Jeff Pullman
Hal Hartley, Jeffrey Howard & John Stearns
production design
Steve Rosenzweig