Hal Hartley fans hoping he would regain his footing with “The Girl From Monday” after his woeful “No Such Thing” will have to wait a while longer. Just as “Thing” showed a lack of comprehension concerning making a contempo “Beauty and the Beast,” “Girl” unconvincingly attempts to update the futurist dystopian traditions of Orwell, Huxley and William Gibson. Nonetheless, the ever-exploring Hartley’s latest has a heightened political tone and fascination for pushing the visual possibilities of video that will prove helpful for pic’s March DVD release, which follows its sole bigscreen unspoolings at Sundance and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
The problems with “The Girl From Monday” begin with its serious intentions as a cautionary tale against growing corporate power, couched in a thriller-cum-love story. Mid-level exec Jack (Bill Sage) competes with Cecile (Sabrina Lloyd), a hotshot exec at the same media conglomerate, MMM, that basically runs the U.S. in this near future.
A recent revolution turned the States into a corporate empire, in which each citizen is ID’d with a bar code, their lifestyles and consumer habits measured and tracked, and their financial credit increased based on how active their sex lives are. As Jack relates in his extensive and explanatory narration, “Aphrodisiacs are the nation-state’s cash crop.”
Into this codified world falls (literally) the Girl From Monday (Brazilian model and newcomer Tatiana Abracos), an alien creature from a distant planet named Monday. When she hits the Earth’s ocean surface, she turns into a gorgeous female.
Other outsiders are strictly Earthlings, including so-called “counter-revolutionaries” who mean to throw monkey wrenches into the system. Jack leads this insurgency, with aid from young operative William (Leo Fitzpatrick).
After a failed attack by William and a botched attempt at a tryst with Cecile, Jack is about to commit suicide when he witnesses the Girl coming out of the ocean. He takes her home and trains her to drink and eat, as she rapidly absorbs information about humans.
In addition to an impossible load of background for this invented — if not entirely unfamiliar — society and its rules and politics, Hartley wants to swing his quasi-science fiction drama (which he has referred to as “fake science fiction,” even though credits up top read “A Science Fiction by Hal Hartley”) into a comedic vein. Both strategies prove to be extremely burdensome and unplayable, with Jack’s semi-philosophical narration describing what should be shown, and extremely pretentious dialogue and situations leaving viewers unsure about what should be laughed at.
Surest sign that pic works better as an example of high-art video design than as total cinema is how the connection between Jack and the Girl leaves no resonance in its wake, even as the hyper-capitalist world may sound fearsome, but never feels that way.
Sage (“Simple Men,” “Flirt”), as he has before, gives a solid reading to this latest version of the confused Hartley modern man in the city. But, the sheer amount of florid narration is too much for any actor to wade through. Lloyd’s range from catty to vulnerable humanizes the tale, and Fitzpatrick is appealingly scruffy. Abracos is expected mainly to look gorgeous and sound slightly disembodied.
As cool and pristine as all of Hartley’s features and shorts, pic marks a new experiment in his feature work in multiple vid effects that dare to test viewers’ perceptions, and create a woozy, dreamy sensation, at least as seen on the bigscreen. Perhaps Hartley’s finest artistic contribution is his sophisticated and beautifully reflective score.