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Flirt

Madman Cinema/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 80 mins . M15+ . PAL

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As all film buffs know, Stanley Kubrick approved release of his movies on video only in full screen mode, which he thought suited the medium better than widescreen.

But that was definitely an eccentric demand by Kubrick, and one which didn't take account of the birth of DVD and widescreen television.

I'm presuming that American cult art-film director Hal Hartley hasn't laid down any such transfer directives for his movies. So it's puzzling that his 1995 widescreen feature Flirt has been released here in full screen mode - albeit in an excellent quality transfer - rather than in its 1.85:1 exhibition mode.

I don't know whether Flirt has been cropped to change it to widescreen, or whether a soft-matte has been opened up, but I'm guessing it doesn't reflect the director's intent. Maybe it does. Maybe Hartley's plain whacko. But my guess is that this 4:3 transfer is the result of plain laziness, not intent.

And this is too bad, because Hal Hartley, while he mightn't appeal to the mainstream, is certainly a director who approaches his work with great deliberation and intent. This 'art' genre of movies is one which generally attracts particularly avid or even rabid fans to a director. And those fans want to see his work as the director wished.

Flirt takes the premise that splitting up is hard to do, and then gives essentially the same scenario to three sets of characters, in separate but thematically identical movies shot in New York, Berlin and finally in Japan. How do the characters cope? Does the outcome change with the social milieu, as one onlooking Berlin construction worker suggests during that tale, or do people stay the same wherever they are, as his buddy retorts?

The New York and Berlin stories (the New York tale filmed in 1993; Berlin the following year) are virtually identical, with almost no change in dialogue until close to the end. The main difference (apart from the ending) is that the New York protagonists are straight; the Berlin characters are gay.

The Japanese story, set in 1995, begins with an avant-garde mime play which seems to be rehearsing the real-life drama about to unfold. This is one story in which the social milieu really comes to the fore - and watch for the uncredited appearance of director Hal Hartley in this one.

In each story the outcome is different; each resolution is another permutation of character and motives. It's a nice directorial conceit, but it is only a conceit, since we're really not learning anything here about life which we didn't already know.

There are times during this movie when the concept of a similar story being played out three times in different societies becomes pretty boring. But there are enough enlivening moments to make you want to watch through to the bitter end. It is an interesting concept; it just hasn't translated totally well to film - unlike the concept of Run Lola Run, which saw the same story being repeated until it brilliantly and triumphantly turned itself inside-out.

Hartley is an acquired taste, and there isn't the humour in this movie that there was in his Trust or Henry Fool. And it does have an irritating directorial manner of having actors declaim as if they're very bad stage actors who are unaware of the actors around them. When it comes to indie directors, I'm a Whit Stillman man, or Pedro Almodovar before his mainstream successes (and after). But this is better than most of the muck being served up nowadays; pity about the aspect ratio...

  Video
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The quality of this 4:3 transfer is excellent. But I don't want to waste time talking about how good it is. It isn't an anamorphic widescreen transfer... 'nuff said.

  Audio
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The Dolby Digital stereo sound is well presented, and does its job with dialogue and music without giving any system a workout. It's there, does its job, and goes away.

  Extras
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There's a filmography of director Hal Hartley.

  Overall  
Contract

Rent if you're a film-buff and know the work of Hal Hartley. Otherwise, be prepared to be puzzled or perhaps plain bored.


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      And I quote...
    "One story told three times in New York, Berlin and Tokyo. Will any of these very repetitive characters live happily ever after?"
    - Anthony Clarke
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