Deadpan maestro Hal Hartley tells the same story three times with three different gender combinations in three different cities and winds up with a textbook example of diminishing returns. The New York permutation, involving a male flirt (Sage) torn between two women, is a first-rate short film, but subsequent variations in Berlin (with Ewell as the flirt, gay this time) and Tokyo (in which the flirt is a woman, Nikaidoh), employing the same dialogue in each segment, make Flirt ultimately seem more a series of screen tests than a movie. For those viewers sucked in by the echo effect, watching on tape, with the rewind button at the ready, has its advantages. But in the end I hold with the Berlin construction worker who’s caught discussing Hartley’s work in progress with his pals during a lunch break (no, really): ”Yes, he’ll fail,” the German opines, ”but in this case, the failure is interesting.” C

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