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Classrooms, Quips, Cuts and Cues: 4 Must-see moments in SURVIVING DESIRE

Hal Hartley shows us how to survive a student mutiny, pitch woo in bookstores, and dance to the music in one’s head.

Somehow the vital connection is made: Donovan and Ward in <i>Surviving Desire</i>

Somehow the vital connection is made: Donovan and Ward in ‘Surviving Desire’

1. 00:30 Depressed college lit professor Jude (Martin Donovan) is having another rough day in class. Reading the same passage from Dostoyevsky that he’s been stuck on all month, he pays no heed to his students as they threaten to mutiny. Instead, a passing glance at his student Sofie (Mary B. Ward) distracts him from the clamor. Hal Hartley doesn’t make it easy for himself by kicking off Surviving Desire amidst so many disruptions. But he steers us through with surgical precision in one of the best classroom sequences in cinema. With a brisk combination of sharp edits, fluid camera movements and striking staging of his actors, Hartley masterfully plants us in Jude’s off-kilter state of mind.

2. 06:10 – There are several wonderful one-liners laced throughout the film:
“You can’t beat up students because they don’t like Dostoyevsky.”
“You can’t just waltz here, use my toaster and start spouting universal truths without qualification.”
“I thought you wanted to get married.” “I just wanted somebody to ask.”

But this one gets my vote:
“Oh, I feel much better now. Waitresses are suddenly much prettier than when I first came in. Ambient chatter is less irritating. Daylight’s not threatening me anymore. It’s just filling the street for no apparent reason.”

Dostoyevsky love me?

Dostoyevsky love me?

3. 11:00 Jude finally acts on his infatuation with Sofie by camping out at the bookstore where she works and ambushing her with a passage from Dostoyevsky. What ensues is one of the more intense bookstore pas de deux in movie history, fueled by a conversational rhythm that’s archly unnatural, yet feverishly insistent, as they paddle questions back and forth at each other, speaking as if no one else within earshot can understand. The scene shimmers with genuine sparks of infatuation. “You seem alive. That book you’re reading seems alive too.”

Who needs a tune when you've got a song in your heart?

Who needs a tune when you’ve got a song in your heart?

4. 18:25 Moments 1 and 3 amply demonstrate how much of a musical sense Hartley has in his direction, but if those aren’t enough, this is the clincher. After experiencing his first kiss with Sofie, Jude leaps right into an impromptu dance number with two random bystanders in an empty city lot. It’s a moment inspired straight out of MGM musicals – except it doesn’t have any music. Which makes it all the more stunning to behold. The music is in Jude’s head, and in Hartley’s. And in ours.

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2 Comments »

  • Carlo says:

    For a short film these moments are pretty hard to miss! I also love the dance sequence without music, there is also a wonderful moment towards the end of the film when Jude and Sofie meet at a cafe, it’s a close-up of their hands, Jude’s hand moves close to Sofie’s, she moves away.

  • alsolikelife says:

    Yeah Carlo, I love that moment too. Hands are a big deal in Bresson’s movies, which had a huge impact on Hartley (you see it in the deadpan dialogue, facial expressions and body movements too)

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