As with most Hal Hartley films in the 90's, Flirt deals with the complexity of romantic relationships, heartbreak, heartache and having to make a tough decision that could hurt someone.
Rules & ultimatums seemed to be a common theme in Hartley's work from the beginning up until Flirt. In Unbelievable Truth, Audrey is bound by a deal she makes with her father to go to college. Matthew Slaughter (Trust) makes a pact with himself to set off an old hand grenade he keeps on him at all times if life becomes too hard. After Bill gets his heart broken at the beginning of Simple Men he makes a promise to himself to break the heart of the next the women he gets involved with romantically. In Amateur we have two rules set - the first is Sofia making a vow to not tell Thomas his past after he loses his memory. The next is Isabelle (Isabelle Hupert) vowing to keep her virginity until she meets the right man to have sex with. In Flirt, our main characters give themselves a 90 minute window to tell their significant other if they see a future in their respective relationships.
Hartley tips his hat to older foreign filmmakers by giving some of the characters in Flirt names like "Ozu" & "Werner" and as always we see the characters making prolific quotes and profound statements that sound like words torn from some manifesto rather than a movie script.
Weather you like Flirt or not it is a little more important within the world of Hal Hartley than people give it credit for. This was the last film to heavily feature so many of Hartley's SUNY Purchase family in both lead & background roles. Not to say he stopped using them, because he certainly hasn't and probably never will, but from Henry Fool on, he slowly transitioned to working with actors outside of his regular troop more & more and created a new generation of regular actors (Thomas Jay Ryan, Leo Fitzpatrick, Dj Mendall, James Urbiniak, etc). There's something about his regularly used actors that makes it difficult for me to watch them in anything else besides a Hal Hartley films. A few years ago I bumped in to Thomas Jay Ryan (who didn't go to Purchase & wasn't in Flirt, but still) at a Whole Foods and without thinking I quickly addressed him as "Henry" (Henry Fool). I struck up a brief conversation with him and the whole time we spoke I couldn’t get the Henry Fool character out of my head. I was well aware of what his real name was at the time too but Henry Fool had such a profound impact on me the first time I saw it that it’s been forever embedded inside me. It felt like I was talking to a much nicer, non-degenerate version of the mysterious character Hartley created over a decade ago. Not to take anything away from his non-Hal Hartley related work but Thomas Jay Ryan will always be Henry Fool to me. Every time his quick scene in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind comes up I'm not only reminded of Hal Hartley's 1997 award winning film but I'm reminded of all of his early films in general as Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless mind is set in Long Island which is not only Hartley's hometown but was the backdrop for all of his early stuff.
You know you're a great filmmaker when your regular actors appear in films and on television shows that have nothing to do with you yet the only thing people can think of is your work. From Edie Falco in The Sopranos to Robert John Burke's recurring role on SVU, I'm always a little weirded out seeing Hal Hartley regulars act in other people's stuff. Is this just me? I just can’t not watch people like Martin Donovan (Trust, Simple Men, Surviving Desire) or Bill Sage (Simple Men, The Girl From Monday, Trust) act "conventionally". There’s a piece of Matthew Slaughter (Trust) & Jude (Surviving Desire) in everything Martin Donovan has done. Every time I watch one of those episodes of Law & Order: SVU where Stabler goes too far and almost beats a perp to death in the interrogation room I know that means Robert John Burke will be making an appearance and every time he shows up I get a little thrown off (Burke plays the main internal affairs guy that has a hard-on for Stabler). I just can’t not think of Simple Men or Unbelievable Truth when I see him. James Urbiniak (Henry Fool, The Girl From Monday, Fay Grim) once made an appearance on SVU as a toilet cam pervert and the whole time I was subconsciously reminded of the beginning of Henry Fool where we see Simon Grim (Urbiniak) briefly spying on a young couple having sex.
|James Urbaniak (L) & Thomas Jay Ryan (R) in Henry Fool (1997)|