Flirt: Hartley’s Anthology–Three Stories, One Dilemma, Three Contexts

A three-part anthology of variations on the same emotional situation, “Flirt” comes across as an academic treatise rather than fully realized feature.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

The film poses some interesting questions, such as the effect of context on contents, the limits (and limitations) of narrative structure, and the range of possibilities of film language.

However, these theoretical issues may be intriguing for scholars, but not for film viewers.

“Flirt” the movie began with a 1993 short (23 minutes) also titled “Flirt,” in which a spoiled but good-natured man named Bill is given an ultimatum by his girlfriend Emily: Commitment or termination of their relationship.

Bill promises an answer in a few hours, during which he hysterically examines his romantic options. In the end, for his bad faith, Bill is accidentally shot in the face and loses his girl.

Gay Couple in Berlin

Set in September 1994, the second segment transposes the same dilemma to a gay locale in Berlin, where a precocious young American Dwight lives with Johan, an older German art dealer.

Johan is flying to New York on business for three months and before leaving he demands to know whether their relationship has any future. Dwight begs for a couple of hours, during which he investigates another man as an alternative to Johan.

In the end, Dwight gets shot in the face by the other man’s wife and is left penniless and adrift in Berlin.

In the third, Tokyo-based episode, which is set in March 1995, Hartley lets context dictate the story. Through no fault of her own, Miho, a butoh dance student is perceived as flirtatious. Drafted as an accomplice to a deteriorating marriage between her instructor and his wife, Miho finds herself wanted by the police, jailed with philosophic lowlifes and shot before reuniting with her boyfriend, who is on his way to Los Angels for 3 months.

This slight and not particularly provocative meditation starts out in familiar territory, then moves to a romantic closure, with frivolous autobiographical elements thrown into the mix about Hartley, who plays himself, a filmmaker.

For some critics, Hartley’s offbeat oppositions and odd character detailing produced cool delight, while others dismissed it as too academically dry.

“Flirt” is more interesting visually than thematically. A precise sense of time place is evoked by Michael Spiller’s sharp photography: the New York act is shot in tight close-ups, the German in medium range, and the Japanese in remote style.

More about Hal Hartley in my book: