This is a kind of reverse Rashomon. Rashomon had three tellers tell three different stories, with Kurosawa adapting his camera to each. Here we have one teller (Hartley) who tells the same story three times, each time triggering a subtle but new adaptation in the telling.
The first set in New York, is pure Hartley; the second is set in Berlin and reflects the seemingly mechanical structure of the story repeating itself (get it? it’s german), in fact one scene takes place around construction workers; the third is set in Tokyo…
This third segment is why you must watch this. It is deeply reflexive. It recasts the previous segments as performances through the Japanese theater. It integrates the nature of this trick by literally having Hartley in the story, as a filmmaker. In fact, one of his film cans reads ‘Flirt’. And the lead actress would soon become his wife. You have to see it to feel how their relationship deeply resonates through the previous stories. Cinematic love.
Marvellous storytelling. I guarantee you that the original script had a different ending. This developped organically.
If you see one Hartley, see this one.