Slight but sleek, “Flirt” is still fun. Hal Hartley’s three-legged set of variations on an emotional situation plays like a compressed version of his after the more portentous “Amateur.” Item is looks unlikely to do breakout business on the art circuit, but with good reviews should tick over in upscale sites where the Long Island auteur’s quirky humor touches a responsive chord.
Pic grew in an unplanned way out of a short (which now forms the first seg) that Hartley shot in early ’93. Following screenings at the Toron-to and Rotterdam fests, producer Ted Hope raised German and Japanese coin for a feature , which Hartley had decided should be variations on the original rather than an expansion. Remaining two segs were shot after “Amateur” preemed at Cannes in May ’94.
Picture gets off to a crowd-pleasing start with the first episode (“New York, February 1993,” 16 minutes), the most compressed and wittiest of the three (seg has been tightened from the short’s 23-minute running time). Lolling on a bed prior to leaving for Paris, Emily (Parker Posey) quizzes an offscreen lover by phone on the depth of his commitment, as she’s had a marriage offer from another guy. The wittiest of the three (seg has been tightened from the short’s 23 -minute running time). Lolling on a bed prior to leaving for Paris, Emily (Parker Posey) quizzes an offscreen lover by phone on the depth of his commitment, as she’s had a marriage offer from another guy. The offscreener turns out to be Bill (Bill Sage) and, as the dialogue goes in Hartleyesque circles around discussions of their future, he finally promises to get off the dime and make a decision when he picks her up in 90 minutes.
At a pay phone in the street (where he also indulges in a brief flirtation with an Asian femme), Bill calls another lover, Margaret, and asks whether she sees a future for the two of them. Bill then hears from a friend that Margaret has left her husband, Walter; another friend warns him to stay away from Margaret.
In the seg’s funniest sequence, Bill verbalizes his confusion in a washroom, seemingly to himself, only to be advised by a Greek chorus of three bums on the john. Further discombobulated, Bill repairs to a bar, into which walks Walter (Martin Donovan), suicidally depressed over his breakup with Margaret and her affair with Bill.
The two men chat while Walter loads a gun and starts doing serious damage to a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. After Bill is accidentally shot and then patched up, fantasizing about girls to ease the pain, he comes to a decision about the future.
Densely characterized, loaded with non sequitur exchanges and reveling in its clever complexity, the episode is like a crash course in Hartley’s universe of out-of-synch characters bouncing off one another, with all the helmer’s strengths strung together without any of the [7mlongueurs.[22;27m
“Berlin, October 1994” (30 minutes) is essentially a straightforward reprise on different instruments, opening with two gay men — black Yank Dwight (Dwight Ewell) and his older German lover, Johan (Domink Bender), an art dealer. Dwight negotiates 90 minutes to give his lover an answer about their future prior to the latter’s flying off on business to New York.
Though the seg initially has fun transposing the same dialogue and situations to a homosexual and German setting (Dwight’s bitchy, asexual encounter with a hooker at a pay phone; the Greek chorus now a trio of Teutonic philosopher-workmen), the joke isn’t pushed past its limits.
Starting with Dwight’s encounter with his other beau’s wife, the gun-wielding Greta (Geno Lechner), the episode develops its own, quite touching zeitgeist, starting with Greta’s physical advances to the confused Dwight and ending with an extraordinary sequence in a hospital in which Dwight fantasizes about gay lovemaking, to the various delight of a male doctor and a female nurse (earlier Hartley icon Elina Lowensohn).
For the third episode “Tokyo, March 1995” (35 minutes), Hartley lets place dictate content even more, opening with a rehearsal by a mime ensemble in which genders are disguised by heavy white makeup and chiffony apparel. Out of this oblique opening emerges a similar but looser variation, with one of the dancers, the kooky Miho (Miho Nikaidoh, from cult erotic pic “Tokyo Decadence Topaz,” and Hartley’s current partner), torn between choreographer Ozu (Toshizo Fujisawa) and departing American filmer Hal (Hartley himself), and pursued by the choreographer’s rod-carrying wife, Yuki (Chikako Hara), looking like a white-faced spook from a Japanese ghost story.
As a whole, pic’s main problem is its shifts of tone, especially given the fact that it starts out gangbusters in familiar Hartley territory and moves to a gentle, romantic close (clearly with some autobiographical elements). Visually, the movie also becomes less in-your-face, with the Gotham sequence heavy with tight closeups, the German more in medium shots and the Tokyo section generally more remotely framed. Pacing and editing also get slacker as pic progresses.
Casting is as on the nose as in earlier Hartley pics, with new faces like Ewell and Nikaidoh fitting easily into the scheme of things.
Michael Spiller’s classy lensing — clean in the Tokyo episode and with a touch of Berlin grit in the middle seg — brings shape and a sense of place to the distended two-year shoot.
Switching between languages in the latter two sections is easy and natural, with good subtitles.