I believe you are sincere and good at heart...
With these words we enter Hartley's single best film. Finally this gem is again available on DVD. Many thanks to those that rereleased it (now how about Trust and Flirt?)
Hartley is at his best working in short films. This piece is less than an hour long, long enough to develop a few characters and a story, but not too long to contain any extraneous words or people. The limits of time force him to use every line, every character, every shot, every expression, for maximum effect. He succeeds here brilliantly. There is nothing out of place, everything contributes and builds to the last poignant scenes.
Martin Donovan, a Hartley regular, plays an assistant professor named Jude grappling with the meaning of love as expressed in literature and smitten with a student named Sophia (Mary Ward, who seems to have done very little else other than this film). His friend Henry (played by Matt Malloy) is an ABD Theology grad student who understands everything, except how to live on his own. Jude, with his PhD and wisdom, is totally lost as things progress, and the wise advice he receives from Henry and a worldly bartender (whose six lines are exceptionally insightful) offers little help. Sophia floats in and out of this world, no passive target for Jude, but at the same time not quite the all knowing adult she believes herself to be.
There are some wondeful individual scenes. The opening shots, interspersed with the credits, are excellent. Jude and Henry's conversations are always insightful, in the Student Union Hall, on a warehouse loading dock, in a bar, and in Jude's apartment. I have already mentioned the scene with Jude and the bartender awaiting Sophia. Jude's last lecture to his class is good, as is Jude's critique of the short story that Sophia is working on through the movie.
This movie is funny, it is enjoyable, and it will actually leave you thinking about the role of love, desire, literature, and advice. For myself, I ponder Dostoevsky almost every day, and actually read Brothers Karamazov after seeing this film.
If you know Hal Hartley you will not be disappointed. If you do not know Hartley's work this one is short and linear enough that you can get the cadence of his dialog, the philosophical puns, and the character crises without the confusion which can creep into his longer pieces. I cannot recommend this film enough.