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Surviving Desire - arthouse and international DVD / comedy DVD review
SURVIVING DESIRE Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 3 1/2 stars
Actors: Martin Donovan, Matt Malloy, Rebecca Nelson, Julie Kessler, Mary B. Ward, Lisa Gorlitsky
Director: Hal Hartley   Studio: Microcinema
DVD release: 27 April 2010   Runtime: 53 minutes (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD, NTSC
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 1.33:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono - English), Upon Reflection: Surviving Desire, Ambition, Theory of Achievement

Hal Hartley's *Surviving Desire*I would love to be a fly on the wall at a Hal Hartley shoot. My guess is that his standard direction for an actor is, "Act like you're acting." There's a certain self-awareness of the medium that permeates much of what Hartley does, and that self-awareness, that meta-critical aloofness, is well and truly present in his 1991 film, Surviving Desire.

Jude, a college professor (Martin Donovan, a longtime collaborator of Hartley's, but now known for his role in Weeds), is in love (or perhaps merely infatuated) with one of his female students, Sofie (Mary Ward). Jude is teaching Dostoevsky in his literature class but can't get past the first paragraph, which he reads aloud to his students in session after session, week after week.

Jude and Sofie are also stuck: they can't seem to get past the first kiss, which is repeated several times as well.

The dialogue is extremely highfalutin', the acting deeply self-aware (the actors border on speaking in poetry-reading voices), yet Surviving Desire is a lot of fun. Following a soliloquy on the nature of love, for instance, Jude busts out in a dance that is a complete non sequitur: a bit from a musical suddenly drops into the middle of our high-art film.

And so it has gone with Hartley. Surviving Desire is one of his earlier films, to be followed in a few years by the amazing Henry Fool (1997) and its sequel, Fay Grim (2006), along with a handful more. But they all have a mash-up quality to them, with elements of a spy thriller whipped together a picaresque biopic (as in Fay Grim), or a science fiction fantasy that crashed into a marketing-communications sitcom (as in The Girl from Monday).

The genre-bending doesn't always work, but it always serves what seems to be Hartley's main purpose in making films: to use art to critique popular culture. Henry Fool, for instance, which was released somewhere near the peak of the slam poetry movement, features a self-obsessed poet who can't seem to get anything right - not even fame.

As an "art house indie" filmmaker, Hartley's work is bound to ebb and flow with the currents of commercialism, which factor into what makes money in the margins just as it does in the mainstream. But I think we can continue to count on Hartley to be idiosyncratic, intelligent, narratively dare-devilish, and somewhat underhanded and funny, even when it hurts.
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reviewed by Brian Charles Clark
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