The flirtations of two unusual teenage boarding school students blossom into love despite difficult circumstances. [ Flirting credits: Dir: John Duigan/ Noah Taylor, Thandie Newton, Nicole Kidman/ 99 min/ Romance, Comedy/ Australia/ Individualism]
One of the psychological factors undermining personal independence is inordinate risk-aversion. So it’s nice to see a film that puts risk-taking in its proper place, as a necessary part of a worthwhile human existence. The risks taken here are only of a social nature, but are nonetheless critical in the lives of those portrayed.
At the center of this story are two students, a boy and a girl, attending adjacent boarding schools in 1960s Australia. These students are both nonconformists and, accordingly, are social outcasts among their respective peers. But they are able to sense the value in each other. Ordinary dates are out of the question, as the traditional one-gender-only schools they attend keep them strictly separated. That’s where the risk comes in.
The two defy all authority to meet in a series of light, clandestine rendezvous, knowing that they could be expelled and publicly humiliated if caught. It’s not just about sex, though that too enters the picture; it’s about the growing love between them and taking ownership of their own lives. The nature of these main characters is refreshing. They are strong without being harsh, defiant without being sullen, and able to face loss with dignity.
It’s a touching story, and in its telling is also tremendously wise. Even the smallest observations, given in voice-overs here and there, have a poetic ring of truth.
Much of what is good in this film is the work of John Duigan, who not only directed, but also wrote the excellent script as well as some of the music. The film also benefits from strong performances by all the leading players. This is a remarkable tapestry of memories of youth. It’s funny, romantic, witty, delightful, and a pleasure to watch. One caveat: there is a sex scene, which, although done with great delicacy, might be more explicit than is suitable for very young audiences.
The central message of Flirting, about the necessity of taking risks in life, is nicely summarized in a voice-over near the end: “I don’t think fate is a creature, or a lady, like some people say. It’s a tide of events sweeping us all. But I’m not a fatalist because I believe you can swim against it and sometimes grasp the hands of a clock face and steal a few precious minutes. If you don’t, you’re just cartwheeled along. Before you know it, the magic opportunity’s lost. And for the rest of your life it lingers on in that part of your mind which dreams the very best dreams, taunting and tantalizing you with what might have been.”
“Flirting is joyous, wise and life-affirming, and certainly one of the year’s best films.”