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by Kathleen Carroll

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The inability to commit is apparently a global problem or so it seems in Hal Hartley's FLIRT. In the past Hartley has stuck to his home turf of Long Island. But in this case he started by making a 23-minute short about Bill (Bill Sage), a commitment-phobic New York bachelor whose current girl friend gives him a few hours to decide whether or not they have a future together. Bill promptly calls another woman, a friend's wife, to whom he's also attracted. He then heads for a local pub where his jealous friend suddenly appears, brandishing a bottle of Scotch and a gun. "Maybe I ought to shoot you because you're a single guy with no responsibilities," the friend argues. Bill is ultimately shot in the mouth, proving that flirts do not always have more fun.

Repeating both the dialogue and basic plot structure Hartley has now expanded on his original film by shooting another variation on the same theme in Berlin. In this episode "the aimless flirt" is a gay expatriate named Dwight (Dwight Ewell) whose present lover also presents him with an ultimatum .

The third and final episode involves Miho (Miho Nikaidoh), a pert Tokyo dance student. Her lover, an American filmmaker played by Hartley, is also pressuring her to renounce all others which, needless to say, she can't quite do because she's irresistibly drawn to her married teacher.

Hartley's droll experiment in narrative structure is occasionally amusing but the film becomes progressively more monotonous even when the setting is as visually intriguing as Tokyo. There are some clever touches, most notably a sort of Greek chorus of concerned German construction workers. But it's like seeing a well-designed building and then discovering it's just an empty shell. You may admire the building's novel structure but you're left feeling somewhat cheated and emotionally unsatisfied.

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