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SURVIVING DESIRE (director/writer: Hal Hartley; cinematographer: Michael Spiller; editor: Hal Hartley; music: Hal Hartley; cast: Martin Donovan (Jude), Mary B. Ward (Sofie), Matt Malloy (Henry), Merritt Nelson (Katie), Julie Sukman (Jill); Runtime: 53; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ted Hope;Microcinema International; 1991)
“The filmmaker’s usual droll humor.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Indie filmmaker Hal Hartley’s (“Trust”/”Henry Fool”/”Simple Men”) playful short romantic/comedy/drama was made for PBS’ American Playhouse and shot as a workshop experiment. It features the filmmaker’s usual droll humor and stylized choppy dialectical dialogue, as well as his usual themes about trust, the challenge of romantic relationships, ambition and being cerebral in a world that doesn’t appreciate intellect as much as material success.

Jude (Martin Donovan) is a cynical college literature professor in Poughkeepsie who falls for the ambitious Sofie (Mary B. Ward), the only student in his class that respects him. The young lecturer is obsessed with Dostoievsky and is told by his socially-awkward colleague, Henry (Matt Malloy), that ‘you can’t beat up students because they don’t like Dostoievsky.’

Jude runs with the notion that ‘in our ignorance we find our bliss,’ and corners Sofie in the book store, where he browses all day and she works, to tell her that she’s a better student than he’s a teacher.

In this oddball delight, Jude nails his student but still comes up empty, as he lives by the slogan ‘Knowing is not enough.’

There are a number of memorable absurd moments, that include the professor and two other passers-by in the street doing a lively dance number without music and a homeless street panhandler (Merritt Nelson) not asking for money but for any man that approaches to marry her.

It was a fun film, enjoyable from beginning to end, as the professor breaks down love as he would a novel.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”