For those raised on Star Wars, Star Trek, even The Last Starfighter, the term "science fiction" evokes images of people piloting large ships and spreading good ol' American values across the galaxy to inferior races (then, if you're Captain Kirk, taking their women).
Of course, director/writer/composer Hal Hartley has never been one for conventional definitions. His "science fiction" has less to do with space and more to do with what the future will look like here on earth. The Girl From Monday, which features an early credit that says, "A Science Fiction by Hal Hartley," imagines an America run by marketing. It's an America where the "pursuit of happiness" is, by law, a pursuit of purchasing power.
It is an interesting view of the future, that of a clean, well-kept and wealthy dystopia. Hartley's imagination runs wild throughout The Girl From Monday and succeeds despite some obvious flaws.
Jack (Bill Sage) is a mild-mannered executive for Triple M, the marketing company in charge of selling everything to society, including heart surgery. Meanwhile, there's an underground of people rebelling against the system, a love interest named Cecile (Sabrina Lloyd) and the titular character – an alien from the planet Monday that Jack tries to hide in his apartment.
This is Hartley's second straight feature in which the narrative doesn't really hold up. While No Such Thing was just off-the-wall bizarre at times, The Girl From Monday, from a story perspective, plays more like a series of incomplete thoughts. The titular character (played with great earnestness by Brazilian model Tatiana Abracos) is likely the "audience" character, there to view the society from an outsider's perspective and pass judgment. That's fine, but she's does not play in a role in the larger story, which makes her seem like a late addition, a tacked on character to make sense of what we're seeing.
However, the film's length (82 minutes) allows us to forgive its flaws, because for that time Hartley does paint a complete picture of a future society, where criminals are sentenced to teach high school and the goal of sex is to increase one's credit rating. It's hard to rail against the plot when the atmosphere of the film itself captivates so thoroughly.
Hartley regulars Sage (No Such Thing, Flirt), Lloyd (The Sisters of Mercy) and DJ Mendel (No Such Thing, The New Math(s)) all turn in outstanding performances, as does Hartley newcomer Leo Fitzpatrick. Working with a Hartley screenplay can be a difficult task; his dialogue is very stylized and certainly not what many would recognize as "realistic." Almost uniformly, the actors here adapt well.
Hartley also takes the time to give The Girl From Monday an interesting look, using a "prosumer" digital video camera for the shoot. The motion blur and soft fog in place gives the entire enterprise a dreamlike effect that matches what Natalie Merchant might say about such a society: "So their eyes are growing hazy/ because they want to turn it on/ so their minds are soft and lazy/
Well, hey, give 'em what they want."
This effect could work as a detriment or a gimmick in less skilled hands, but Hartley and cinematographer Sarah Cawley approach every shot carefully, filling the screen with amazing images throughout the film. There is an incredible attention to detail here in the visual impact of the film, and it pays off with a beautiful looking production.
(NOTE: The Girl From Monday is not yet available for purchase. It can be rented via NetFlix. PossibleFilms.com, the site for Hartley's production company, claims it will be available "everywhere" sometime in September.)
It's difficult to reach a true conclusion on the video quality of The Girl From Monday thanks to the unique look Hartley pulls off. There are very few, if any, transfer issues, which is quite an achievement.
The 5.1 audio track features very little usage of the surround speakers, even during the film's few action sequences. Hartley's score sounds fine, though, and dialogue always comes through loud and clear.
The main extra included on The Girl From Monday is a behind the scenes featurette on the making of the film. It's much more interesting than the usual Hollywood fare, with long clips of Hartley directing, setting up scenes … and no voiceover! No hard sell! Just shots of how the film got made! The interviews are interesting as well, even if they sound like Hartley's canonization at points.
A trailer and a text bio of Hartley round out the extras.
Not a completely unqualified success, The Girl From Monday is an interesting – at times captivating – look at Hartley's view of a society raised on rampant consumerism. The plot is thin, but strong performances and incredible cinematography make The Girl From Monday worth seeing.