Add 1/4 star if: you are way into Hartley.
What to do while watching:
What to eat while watching:
Hal Hartley's Trust won me over six or seven year ago. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of film-making and characterization. Hartley has my undying respect, friends. Surviving Desire took some chances with the art and, I think, succeeded. I've never seen a more startling inclusion of interpretive dance in a film--including the one in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. But thank heavens that Hal Hartley is a human being, subject to same foibles that other directors are subject to. Not even Woody Allen has managed to avoid cranking out one or two sour runts amid all that pure genius. That Fellini has never made a bad movie merely means that he is the god of cinema, Q. E. D. (One also might argue that Fellini has never made a good movie, and I can accept that tastes vary.)
Flirt, a film well into his career, really underscores the "art" in "Hartley." There is an extra measure of pure artifice in this film, and it comes across like the pure icing roses on a big-ass birthday cake. Which is to say that there is some sweet cake-y substance in this film (romance, betrayal, philosophy) that's frosted over with a thick glaze of art.
Let's cut into this cake and see what's there. It's the story of an American couple: Parker Posey and some guy. She wants him to commit to their relationship and is on the verge of blowing him off altogether if he can't. She's not without resource: if he doesn't want her enough, then tough titty for him! She has another lover. He wants her, it is true; but he too has another hot little love thing going on the sly side. His secret lover is in Paris, and she also has another lover. We must assume that every lover has another lover. This star-crossed couple is just a single pair in what is by implication a very large and complicated square dance of cheatin' hearts. Which means Parker Posey's demand is either an unrealistic ultimatum or an attempt to pull two people out of this dance.
So, Mr. Mister goes out to a bar to call his non-Parker Posey lover. In a state of confused paralysis, he goes into the men's room and says, "Gentlemen, here's my situation," and begins to spill his guts with such heady questions as "Is it wrong for me to be so scared?" The people in the restroom answer him in deeply considered paragraphs about the nature of love, human intimacy, and, hey, while we're at it, the art of filmmaking. Uh-oh! Art alert!
The story, such as it is, resumes with a jealous lover showing up and shooting our hero in the face. He isn't killed, but does need stitches, without anesthesia, but with sexual fantasies. By the time he gets out of the hospital, the window of opportunity has closed between he and Parker Posey. So he grabs a cab to the airport so he can try to catch her. And the dance goes on. End of scene.
Two years later, in Paris: A gay couple is talking. The young, sexy black man, who dresses like The Artist Formerly Known As Prince even just to walk down the street, can't commit to his older German lover. Hey! This dialogue is oddly familiar! Okay, it's identical; and you'd have to be deaf or thoroughly distracted to miss this device two lines into act II. The dialogue repeats, with slight variation, and the situation repeats, with less variation. The point is that all lovers are pretty much in the same boat. Again, the young lover delivers a soliloquy half way through the act and is answered by bystanders, who speak prosodic treatises about love, sex, and art. This is the only section of dialogue that's significantly different, but the message is only slightly deeper than what it was before. If they weren't so visually interesting, these expository scenes would be too subtle to hold the attention. As it is, I don't really have any inclination to paraphrase what these Greek choruses were talking about. Too subtle. Too much bother.
Once again, the young lover is shot in the face, goes to the hospital, and loses his lover. Another young gay man approaches and offers him his jacket and a smile. And the dance goes on...
Two years later, in Tokyo: We go through the whole thing once again. But this third iteration has some significant differences and is actually quite surprising. The culture is so buttoned-up and proper that gushy readings of lines are replaced by very tight-lipped and non-ironic readings. Much of the story is expressed through Butoh, a fascinating form of Japanese interpretive dance that developed since World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The main lover is a young woman this time, who dances in a Butoh troupe. Her director is torn between loving her and loving another Butoh dancer, his wife, or long-time partner. This iteration of the story makes the most interesting leaps, perhaps because the missing lines of dialogue are so obviously missing. Even the now-familiar soliloquy and chorus has a greater urgency. The three members of the chorus represent three different casts in Japanese culture and reveal that there is a steamy, pressure-cooking sexuality and romance underneath the rank and file of Japanese life.
The climactic shooting that we know to expect comes as the young woman finds her rival drunk, with a gun. Our heroin takes the whisky and the gun and moves into a Butoh attitude so startling that in one moment the folly of the entire situation--as well as the fundamental aesthetic of Butoh--becomes crystal clear. The entire movie coalesces in this moment, including all the discussion of aesthetics. The heroin's artistic moment encapsulates human love and also manages to save a life. That's good art.
This film really does have some substance under its device. But I had
to write this review to really notice it. If you can get past the frosting,
you'll have a tasty experience.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.