Shiny Shelf


By Jim Smith on 09 November 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Hal Hartley once managed to portray the apocalypse with nary more than Polly Harvey and a Salvation Army band, so it shouldn’t really be much of a surprise to see him attempt to convey an authoritarian post-revolutionary future with only a digital camera and some super soaker water pistols painted black at his disposal.

In a not-distant-seeming future America is run by ‘Triple M’ a corporation that once specialised in advertising but now concentrates maintaining order by using advertising and producce to enforce people’s sense of themselves as consumers rather than people.

There is, of course, a resistance movement to the barcoded new world and one of its senior figures is, oddly also a senior advertising executive in the post-revolutionary government; one who feels guilty at the awful world he’s helped create. Suicidal and plagued by impressionistic nightmares, he encounters the titular girl who emerges from the sea, and she too becomes involved, albeit in a semi-comatose, winsome sort of way with his rebellion against the system.

There’s much wit, social commentary and darkness in this cheap but often incendiary, picture, which posits a future where convicts are forced to teach High School (because no one else will do it voluntarily) and where sex has been so commodified and commercialised that people actually have sex because (and only because) it’s an event you can register with the authorities, one which will them prove your desirability – an asset when this is a Market with its own share prices, where one can buy and sell, speculate and accumulate, on your own appeal to others.

‘The Girl From Monday’ takes its visual and social cues from Godard’s ‘Alphaville’ (which also created a dystopian future without using special locations or props) and Lucas’s ‘THX-1138’ (with which it shares much of its iconography and a despair at a world drained of emotion) and its ambition to present a ‘future shock’ type story which is really largely about the present in the low-budget, high-impact way that it does is to be applauded.

Overall the movie works, partially thanks to a wryly observation and self-consciously noir-like voiceover from Bill Sage and partially through the other actors pressing ahead with the naturalistic, amateurish forthrightness that you associate with Hartley’s films (although the titular character, as played by Tatiana Abracos, a model, has little do but smile). The standout performance comes from Sabrina Lloyd as Cecile, the actress makes her character engaging without being sympathetic and then lets us share Cecile’s journey towards a greater understanding of the world she’s so far slumbered through. The scenes where she teaches High School in prison are the movie’s very best moments and this subplot perhaps deserved more screen time.

Its worst moments come late on in the day, when revelations about one character’s past tip the story sideways slightly, unbalancing something which is – until this point – a cunning satirical portrait of an exaggerated world, as the story becomes a tad too mystical for its surroundings as a result (and no one looks comfortable talking about other planets or alliances with aliens species here, which doesn’t help, to be honest). The metaphor being represented works as a notion, but how it has been put into practice – in this aspect of the plot – doesn’t quite gel with the picture’s otherwise admirable style.

This is not Hartley’s best film, for sure, but it’s a diverting, ambitious, intelligent picture and well worth seeking out when it emerges at your nearest Arthouse dive.

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