Seen: On my laptop, originally rented from Scarecrow Video in Seattle.
Months ago I was taking a train down to my brother's graduation, and I started watching Flirt, the one Hal Hartley movie I'd been unable to find during my Hartley craze sophomore year. Then the train ahead of me derailed somewhere in Connecticut and I was ferried about from train to train for a very long, very unpleasant night. So I never finished Flirt. Last week I was on another train on the way to NJ for Christmas, and I decided to test fate and watch Flirt again. And it WORKED. Basking in his own love of repetition and theatricality, Hartley places the same story in three different settings, considering how nearly-identical scenarios would play out in New York, Berlin, and Tokyo. When one person prepares to leave for an extended stay in another country, their lover must decide whether to go ahead with a long-distance relationship or embark on a new romance with a friend who is separating from their partner. They move around their respective neighborhoods, looking to friends and strangers for advice on what to do, and each walks into a violent situation at the end.
Working in a number of his regulars (Bill Sage, Parker Posey, Martin Donovan, Karen Sillas, Elina Löwensohn, Miho Nikaido, among others), along with some new faces, Flirt is a fascinating exercise in storytelling possibilities. The premise sounds kind of dull: a bunch of people wandering around moaning about their love problems three times in a row. But, as with most Hal Hartley films, I found myself captivated. Each segment is unique, though linked by circumstances, and I was ever-curious about how events would play out. In New York the events take place primarily in a bar, with Bill Sage aching over two women and seeking advice from strangers in the bathroom. In Berlin, ultra-stylish Dwight Ewell wanders around the city as he is forced to choose between two men (one who is married), interacting with varied denizens and merging languages. Finally, in Tokyo, Miho Nikaido is a theater student torn between a fling with her married teacher and her long-term filmmaker boyfriend (played by Hartley himself!).
While linked by their supposedly flirtatious natures, the protagonists in each story are wildly different, as are their contexts. Hartley not only hints at cultural variables affecting each story but also individual personalities, so that each tale manages to be unpredictable. I loved Dwight's attitude, but was surprised when his confrontation with his love interest's wife morphed into a dangerous seduction. I loved the juxtaposition of performance art and realism in Miho's story, a fun commentary on Hartley's noted theatrical style and intentionally stilted dialogue and blocking. I of course also loved Bill Sage's section, mostly because he's really attractive, even if he has a terrible 1995 haircut. It's a strange little film, beautiful in many ways and one of the director's more daring features. I was a little frustrated with the anthology structure mainly because I wanted more time with these characters, and their stories all felt cut short. But of course it's amazing because Hal Hartley is amazingggggg. Lovely soundtrack, too, as usual.
Pair This Movie With: After every Hartley movie I only want more Hartley, that's just the way it is.