Flirt (1995)

15 11 2010

One story – told three times with only the slightest of differences. This is Hartley at his most experimental, his most deadpan, his most philosophical, but still extremely playful. Perhaps the Godard comparison is a little overused, but it fits all too well here. His characters border on being mouthpieces, which is usually a problem for me, but considering the stilted, deadpan delivery it only enhances the absurdity touched upon throughout all of the Hartley films I’ve seen. His performers never even attempt realism, instead they deliver each line as though they are reading the script for the first. For some reason, this is kind of amusing to me, which is odd considering it might be less acceptable when it’s in a film written by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

To Hartley’s credit, he does seem to be conscious of this type of humor. His wit is dry, but never condescending. In some ways, this is his most accessible work. At the very least, the first segment is a great introduction. It features a slew of his reoccurring performers (Martin Donovan, Parker Posey, Bill Sage) whose star power can maybe push even the least patient film watcher through the film’s first third. Additionally, this is the content at it’s most fresh state. It might be cheating to say since the point of the film is to observe the difference made between the three stories, but it definitely feels best when heard for the first time.

The slight differences found in the two segments that follows are meant to be minor shifts from the dialogue, but for me, the most interesting element comes from the difference in composition to the related lines. For example, Bill Sage’s description of what he’s thinking about in the hospital is read over a sensualist close-up of a nurse’s face, meanwhile Dwight Ewell’s similar speech is made over an extended panning shot. As it is, Ewell’s speech seems to lack the tension of Sage’s but maybe visuals aren’t the only justification of this, maybe it’s the element of repetition.

The third time around, the film sort of loses its momentum. This might be a fair assessment since it is essentially the third retelling of the story within an hour, but it definitely is the least memorable of the three. Maybe it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to watch it separately, but as someone who buys into Hartley’s intended experiment (albeit for only two segments) I have to feel a little disappointed. If there’s any saving grace in the Tokyo section it’s that the great music and beautiful visuals of the previous two segments remain in tact. Maybe that’s the whole theory and Hartley has outsmarted us all, or something.

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