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Surviving Desire is actually three short films, two of which--"Theory of Achievement" and "Ambition"--demonstrate writer-director Hal Hartley at his most quirky and abstract. They consist mostly of a series of dialogues, presented out of context, about things like Brooklyn real estate, nonlinear art, and contrasting male and female approaches to suicide. Fans of Hartley will enjoy them; newcomers will probably find them baffling. The third film, however--"Surviving Desire," from which the collection takes its title--is one of the most charming pieces Hartley has made. This hour-long story follows Jude (Martin Donovan), a college teacher obsessed with a single paragraph from The Brothers Karamazov, who's fallen in love with Sofie (Mary Ward), one of his students who's writing a short story about him. As the romance plays itself out, philosophical conversations turn into metaphysical Abbott and Costello routines, Jude breaks into spontaneous dance, a rock band in the street serenades a woman in her apartment window--and gradually a rueful and whimsical sense of life and love rises out of Hartley's erratic rhythms. Hartley is an idiosyncratic filmmaker who's not to everyone's taste; this short film is probably an ideal introduction to his work. Some of his movies seem to be working too hard for a sense of poetry and end up feeling stilted, but in "Surviving Desire" all of Hartley's devices take flight.

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FLV5321 Surviving Desire VHS (1991/Hal Hartley) $5.99