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Flirt (Hal Hartley) 1995

    Hal Hartley appears to be an acquired taste. I have only seen 3 of his films so far (this, the flat-out brilliant Trust, and the better than okay Henry Fool) but he's clearly one of the most under appreciated American directors working today. I think the delivery of his dialogue is what kills enjoyment for most people. It's very deliberate and generally not filled with an overkill of emotion. I find this approach allows me to listen to what the characters are actually saying (as opposed to just how they're saying it). That Hartley's one of the few screenwriters with something to actually say really seals the deal.

    I don't want to suggest Flirt lacks emotion though. It manages to pack in more complex emotions that most more histrionic films. In one scene, a man threatens another with a gun, reconciles with him, embraces him, has a sudden change of heart, and shoots him. A woman who witnesses this, hearing some music that begins to play, begins to dance, caught in the moment, slips to the ground, and gets up regaining her sense of reality. This sounds like absurdity, and it plays that way in the film. Still, it manages to convey a great deal of human emotions in about a minute without a false note. Hartley is a master at achieving a desired effect.

    Flirt is somewhat experimental in that it replays the same narrative with nearly the same dialogue in three different countries with three different casts. This never felt boring to me, as the intention of some of the lines and the overall outcome of the situation changes each time. What's interesting is that the plot of the episodes is that the character has 90 minutes to make up their mind about whether their relationship has a future. Not coincidentally, the film is 90 minutes long. Clearly Hartley is commenting on the use of art (screenwriting, film direction) to solve personal demons. One feels he is using this film to explore a personal dilemma for himself, a point that is driven home when Hartley himself shows up in the third episode as the possibly spurned lover. It's interesting that such an apparent act of directorial vanity never feels like hubris. Hartley manages to make an extremely personal film that actually has something universal to say. He manages to be stylistically bold without being gaudy or excessive. He manages to make the same plot interesting three times. He manages to create an exceptional film with Flirt.


September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman