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THE GIRL FROM MONDAY - Film Review
The Girl from Monday is one unique American auteur’s reaction to the mass branding of all that we purchase, from clothes to technology to credit and beyond. And it shows how we end up bartering our souls in the process...I was born in Queens, New York, and moved out to Long Island when I was a teenager. My parents settled in Lindenhurst. I grew up a few blocks away from Hal Hartley’s cousin and her husband, on Wellwood Avenue, where he shot many of his early films. It was weird going to junior high school and knowing that he used parts of the school for the film Trust. It’s always hard to adjust to a place that is foreign to you, but it’s even weirder when you’re being turned on to an exciting artist and his body of work and seeing your new world in all of his works. From the parking lots by the train station to the Post Office where I mailed out my first album review, there it was—my town!
It would be a number of years before I would get fed up with the place so you could say Hal Hartley got the jump on me when it came to environmental angst and ennui, but like him, I decided I would never get pigeonholed as the hometown filmmaker. To wit: After his first few films, Hartley left Long Island for Manhattan, then Manhattan for Japan and, only recently, left Japan for Berlin, Germany. It was in these culturally-diverse, open-minded and cosmopolitan cities where he would reach his full stride as a visual artist and find new ways to approach cinema.
When it came time for me to make my own first film, Of Bitches & Hounds, I smart enough not to shoot in Lindenhurst. In fact, I couldn’t since the film was based around a very specific apartment in Kent, Ohio. So even though Hartley came, saw and left Lindenhurst before I could, I beat him to the technique of outbound itinerant filmmaking by an entire oeuvre. Instead of making four plus projects locally and, therefore, stifling artistic growth by way of local ignorance, I reached out to a land that was foreign to me and plucked up some cinematic real estate that would look beautiful because it was shot with a stranger’s eyes.
I mention this because Hartley is one of the most compelling motion picture artists alive, one whose films walk a tightrope between preachy, pithy and pretentious without every disappointing and usually enlightening. So I am proud to plod along the crackling asphalt he matured in, reaching down every once in awhile to collect the crumbs left over from the chip that must have been on his art-loving shoulder back then. And when the credits roll I get the fuck out…
Now that I’ve tooted my own horn, for no apparent reason, and confused the fuck out of the poor fool who thought this was a brief synopsis of the flick, I will proceed with the actual critique, and God have mercy on me for all of the hubris found above.
Although Hartley’s Fay Grim has just arrived to DVD The Girl from Monday is still fresh from the presses, the debut entry in Hartley’s self-financed, self-distributed Possible Films catalog. It centers around a businessman (Bill Sage) and his attractive but (at first) prudish co-worker Cecile (Sabrina Lloyd), both of whom work for the Triple M (Multi Media Monopoly), a corporation-cum-government that is considered, at least by the society that condones it, to be the Revolution. And the people who try and stop it are considered “counter-revolutionary,” part of a Resistance that is found to be counterproductive to their brand of ultra-consumerism.
The businessman is the creator of their chief export, a marketed version of trading one’s body. In other words, Sex = credit rating, reputation, market value. Your rating goes up exponentially depending on the instant of fornication and the specifics of said act. Trading in flesh, that’s the gist of it.
The film opens with the lines, “The word made flesh…No…The body made…What?”
This is never fully explained, but it doesn’t really matter because the film as a whole is like one big definition, translation, explanation, and admonishment of what Hartley’s central message is. Capitalism-meets-Totalitarianism and how it all happens. It begins with us, the consumer, who blindly purchase mammon because we are conditioned to think we need the shit.
In the middle of all the chaos there is The Girl from Monday, Monday being a constellation of stars whose intelligent sub-beings are leading the fight against the Imperialism but apparently losing. She is the muted alien, hardly a help beyond putting things into perspective that already should have been put.
Anyone who makes love without generating market value is considered a rapist by the state—MMM. The irony is that a medical doctor is one of the few counterrevolutionary sympathizers. In our world, a medical doctor is invariably in cahoots with the greed-driven pharmaceutical industry that would deny us a cancer cure because they serve to make more money through chemo-treatments and various body-preservation pills. He would be in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry, itself an element of the empirical consumerism seen here. A doctor would likely be an agent of the Triple M.
But this is Hal Hartley’s world, one where something with the appearance of evil can often prove to be good or vice versa. Ambiguity reigns! So, too, does social disorder.
The kids are deliberately fed caffeinated beverages that, when combined with their daily ration of attention deficit medication, turns them into violent paranoid sociopaths.
The world of ‘Girl from Monday’ is one in which the teachers are convicts, the student population are violent horndogs and any form of art that could be thought of in a private manner is considered elitist, amoral and bad for business. The student body are force fed pills and learn most everything from virtual reality “play stations.” The web dynamically reconfigures itself to suit the individual’s propensities, thereby producing a form of their product that people will think that they want or need. The autonomy of the individual is a sour myth that one could be condemned for even imagining.
Cecile, the sexy but repressed working woman ends up having sex with a seventeen-year old underground rebel (Leo Fitzpatrick, Kids, Serendipity, Bully) without consulting the Triple M. This “inconsiderate and perverse insistence on one’s own selflessness,” is repudiated by the Courts and she is found guilty by Edie Falco who previously played judge and jury on HBO’s The Sopranos. Cecile’s punishment for this crime? Teaching high school. The even funnier part? She is teaching the class that her seventeen-year old fling attends. It seems almost suspicious that the same people who condemned her for conspiring with the young lad would put her in a class with him. Almost like they want her to continue sympathizing with the Resistance.
In the end they do, for it is learned that MMM realized that the Resistance is good for business because they sell terror to the public which plays on society’s innate bloodlust and makes it possible for them to market murder.
The Girl from Monday is supposed to be here to help, but there is little she can do in a world so inextricably reliant on the consumerist machine. Even the other realm, her home in the constellation Monday, is cruel and unforgiving, turning away its failed messengers (who are sent to retrieve an elusive errant son) and thrusting them back on to the shores of Earth as counterrevolutionary beings-cum-castaway humans.
For all of its bleak subject matter and cords of doom, ‘Girl from Monday’ is a lustrous film, bathing the audience in both vibrant colors and a frenetic but rhythmically poetic choreography that has become a landmark of Hartley films. There is even a rare behind-the-scenes featurette that gives us a better understanding of how Hartley works and how he will be working in the digital medium, hopefully for some time to come.
The Girl from Monday is one unique American auteur’s reaction to the mass branding of all that we purchase, from clothes to technology to credit and beyond. And it shows how we end up bartering our souls in the process.
Many reviewers have said that ‘Monday’ is a visionary portrait of what could be our Tomorrow. But I see it as a very real reflection of what we are Today.—Bob Freville