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The Brainy Lust of SURVIVING DESIRE

Hal Hartley’s mid-length delight remains as warm and fresh as ever.

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‘Surviving Desire’

It’s been almost 20 years since Hal Hartley made Surviving Desire, a mid-length delight from the thick of his heyday as one of America’s most exciting indie filmmakers. The film was recently re-released on DVD from Microcinema, and according to several reviews, its charms remain as warm and fresh as ever:

Brian Orndorff for DVD Talk:

Experimental in structure, but operating from a pure Hartley blueprint, Surviving Desire represents the filmmaker massaging his droll twitches between his triumphant work on Trust and the equally intoxicating pull of 1992’s Simple Men. Running only 50 minutes in length, the picture sprints through this game of askew courtship at top speed, skillfully interpreting Hartley’s metronome-tight dialogue as a verbal dance between two intellectuals attempting to suppress their magnetic attraction.

Josh Rothkopf for Time Out New York:

The material is unapologetically academic, yet the message is lusty; Hartley loves his head-bound hero and pushes him into the coed’s bed, through a band’s live performance in the street and, memorably, into a choreographed dance number.

Daniel Auty for The Spinning Image:

The literary theme is carried throughout, Jude coming to the realisation he is in love by breaking down the constituent parts of his feelings like he would a novel in his class. He spends much of the day when not teaching reading in the bookshop Sofie works in, but the fact that none of the solutions he seeks can be found inside a book is what causes a suppressed rage to finally bubble to the surface.

If this all sounds heavy going, it’s really not, because although the themes are serious, it is also one of Hartley’s warmest and funniest films, especially when compared to latter efforts like the overtly-arch Amateur and Henry Fool. The performances are pitched perfectly, it’s crisply shot in primary colours by Hartley’s regular DP Michael Spiller, and Hartley himself provides a shimmering guitar/synth score. Best line: “Listen pal, you can’t waltz in here, use my toaster, and start spouting universal truths without qualification!”

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