Simple Men (1992) Directed By Hal Hartley

Hal Hartley is amazing. They should make Simple Men T-shirts at H&M if they really wanted to be at the heart of the 1990s revival. I wouldn't normally claim that there is anything iconic about the era, but Simple Men makes the decade seem almost classic. Probably because it nods towards earlier cinematic decades, like Godard in the 60s maybe. And definitely, because in Hartley's films people often portray iconic pride – they appear cocky and self-confident to the point of seeming idiotic. Style is content. A pose is the attitude. And then there are the lines in the script. "There's no such thing as adventure. There's no such thing as romance. There's only trouble and desire", a quote from the Fritz Lang movie Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922).

Simple Men deserves to be watched annually, it deserves to be discussed at length and analyzed academically from perspectives of gender, in this case the representation of hetero men and their relationship to women. But I'm not going to be the one doing all that. Let me just point you towards a few details: there is a great discussion in the film, where the characters have a party and in the middle of it discuss Madonna's self-representation as a woman and artist at length. I was so tickled by the intelligence and humor of that scene. It proved to me that Hartley has made his movies For Me. I get him.

I cannot review Simple Men and not talk about the two brothers at the heart of this film. How lovable are they! I don't usually get excited about hollow-cheeked blond males, but these ones were cool: So lost, looking for their own mysterious father, struggling to understand how to relate to women in their loves. They are both hanging on the edge of society, looking for the balance between intelligence, feeling, theory, action, freedom and responsibility. The real gem of this film is Elina, played by Elina Löwensohn. You have to watch Simple Men just to catch her. 

Sometimes life just gets to you, it all becomes too much – I'm approaching this now. My tolerance levels are low. I spent some days in Hamburg last week – specifically The Reeperbahn Festival, which is located on the notorious strip. It was a throwback to some seedy world that time had forgotten, the Reeperbahn has been frozen somewhere around 1972. It's not just the neon signs, or the generally tasteless facades that adorn the shop fronts, it's the attitude towards women or, if you like, the portrayal of. Porn in all it's tacky glory. Big implanted tits explode from screens, a dildo salutes you, a peep show there, get some in, lovely. Wank fantasies for men that see women primarily as a slab of meat. It's only a bit of fun, some will tell you. Pull the other one! The Reeperbahn is a hetero hell of male dominated testosterone, probably designed to spice up the demeanor of those who can't, shall we say, get it up. People accept this. It's like the middle ages. Me caveman, you make babies. Me hunt, then we make more babies. Then yesterday, the men did themselves proud again. Lauren Mayberry, singer with the band Chvrches, revealed how she's the victim of online misogyny. Some of the comments directed at Lauren are not only offensive but incomprehensible to me. What can I say about the mens club? Sometimes, I really want to leave.

Before leaving for Hamburg, we devoured Joseph Losey's ridiculously camp-yet-amusing Modesty Blaise and absorbed one of Hal Hartley's early masterpieces Simple Men. Hartley and specifically Simple Men could be described as shallow yet deep, or dangerous yet sensitive and kind. Is it clever or just smart, witty, but not funny? Do you get my drift, or are you just floating? I'm trying to give you some kind of reference to the kind of dialogue the protagonists use in Simple Men. That's when they're not trying to contextualize weather Madonna is justified in using her sexuality to sell music or making some feminist stand. That's all confounded by dancing to Kool Thing in the most choreographed manner. Yes, this is Hartley at full pelt, with enough ideas for most peoples movie repertoire, crammed into one and a half very amusing hours.

Hartley regular Robert Burke plays Bill, who is betrayed by the one he loves on a computer robbery. Devastated, Bill decides to fuck up the life of the next beautiful blonde women he meets. Bill then meets his brother Dennis (Bill Sage) who's trying to track down their father, a known suspected terrorist who's escaped detention. They leave for Long Island in search of Dad (and also because Bill is feeling the heat due to the robbery). It's here that Bill encounters that beautiful blonde woman Kate (Karen Sillas). It's on Kate's Long Island bar where the drama and romance rekindled plays out. Great turns by other Hartley regulars Martin Donovan and Elina Löwensohn flesh out the characters. Has Simple Men dated? Sure. Is it pretentious? Definitely, name me a Hartley movie that isn't. It's also really funny. But Hal knows something about the chemistry between men and women and why some things happen that shouldn't. Simple Men ends with a sigh almost, a shattering sigh of inconsolable beauty. It moves. Sometimes, it takes someone like Hartley to restore my faith in the male. Without doubt a film you should watch and cherish.


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