1996, NR, 85 min. Directed by Hal Hartley. Starring Bill Sage, Parker Posey, Dwight Ewell, Miho Nikaidoh, Karen Sillas, Elina Löwensohn.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Oct. 11, 1996
I love Hal Hartley's images. I may not always be as enthusiastic about his films, but with cinematographer Michael Spiller, Hartley never fails to create stunning tableaux that stand alone as visual commentaries on themes of love, trust, faith, and the dynamics of human relationships. With Flirt, Hartley makes his most ambitious film yet. Shot in three different international locations over the course of a number of years, Flirt developed from a 23-minute short in 1993 to this feature-length film. Not only is Flirt a logistically complex film, but it also tackles Hartley's thorniest creative proposition yet: Can one filmmaker tell the same story from three different viewpoints filmed in three different time zones across three years? Beginning in New York in 1993, Flirt follows Bill (Sage) as he solicits advice about committing to Emily (Posey), his girlfriend of six months. Emily must leave for Paris for a three-month stay with her boyfriend -- on whom she's cheating with Bill -- and she's determined to get a commitment out of Bill or end the relationship. With only an hour and a half to spare before Emily's flight departs, Bill anxiously seeks his friends' advice. In the process he accidentally is shot in the face. We leave Bill in NYC with surgical tape on his lip and without resolution. Flash forward to Berlin, 1994. Dwight (Ewell) must make the same mental journey for his lover, due to fly to New York for a three-month stay. Like Bill, Dwight is similarly noncommittal. When his own quest for reassurance ends in a shooting, Dwight and his story are left to their own devices. The film moves on to Tokyo, 1995. Miho's (Nikaidoh) narrative is, not surprisingly, quite similar to Bill's and Dwight's. Caught in the emotional crossfire between her butoh dance instructor and his desperate wife, Miho struggles to maintain equilibrium amidst this chaos and that of her own unresolved relationship with an American director named Hal, whose next film is taking him to Los Angeles for three months. You get the picture. If anyone can do justice to this narrative experiment, Hartley is the man. Like most Hartley films, Flirt requires a patient and attentive viewer. The reward for this patient attentiveness lies in the humor and the small touches that Hartley includes in each of the film's three “acts.” Familiar faces such as Karen Sillas and Elina Löwensohn from previous Hartley films make small but memorable appearances. Dialogue rings both true and hollow except in the last sequence filmed in Tokyo, which is eerily beautiful and nearly silent. I once wrote that a Hal Hartley film is an acquired taste. I still believe this. Flirt has its ups and downs, but it's certainly an intriguing ride.