In which Hartley continues his exploration of the Godard cookbook. In this case, "Alphaville", with side orders of "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and various Chris Marker 'photoroman' movies.
The voice-over is not a cover for the failure to tell the story so much as a yarn-spinning technique along the lines of early Peter Greenaway or late Werner Herzog. There are some striking similarities with Herzog's recent "Wild Blue Yonder" (also billed as a science fiction fantasy).
In some ways this seems as much an exercise as an attempt to entertain; as with Godard's work the film is shot on a shoestring, with the present made to stand in for the future - Hartley tries to see how much he can say with how little.
Others have commented on the social satire; overlooked may have been the beautiful photography, the dreamlike atmosphere, the air of melancholy and loss, and the very effective music by Hartley himself (no longer trading under his "Ned Rifle" alias).
I dare say many of us miss his "early, funny, films" but that's how it goes with New York filmmakers, I guess. Where those movies were snappy prose, this is a poem.
Being a huge fan of the films that Hartley did in the 90's, I couldn't wait to see this movie at Sundance. In fact it was one of the two movies I absolutely had to see (the other one was Mirrormask).
I can't say that I got what I expected. The movie proclaims itself to be a "Science fiction film by Hal Harley". It is neither science fiction (unless you count Kurt Vonnegut as science fiction), nor a typical Harley film. The special effects that you expect in a science fiction are nowhere to be found. In fact, big chunks of the movie aren't even in technicolor.
The whole movie is shot with very long exposure times and frame rates reaching down to 5-10 fps, leading to a totally dreamlike look.
But enough about technicalities... 'As I said the movie was a surprise but a very pleasant one. Harley uses his favorite themes of alienation (this time with actual aliens) and random, but very deep personal connections. He paints a weird but very familiar world of people treating sex as a means to getting what they want -- but with a quite interesting twist. Other current subjects, like civil liberties (ie: the lack thereof) and teenage crime are also treated to a round of deep black, dripping irony.
All in all I would recommend the movie, but not as a mindless Friday-night excursion. I give it an A.
It is a typical Hal Hartley in terms of the mood he creates. Long in-door shots, the disconcert between sound and sight. As always he uses cheap material. for instance one suspects that the black goggles that the cops wear -with the red light in the center- may be like a 10 dollar toy bought from Chinatown. But this combined with the camera moves and lights allows him to create a different world that is often visually convincing. Although I heard people in the audience murmur about the connection with the space being unconvincing, I totally disagree.
It is a meditation on capitalism where the term 'flesh market' gets literal. He weaves this theme in with reflections on the sense of the extremeness of the boundaries between individuals in modern capitalist society. How one feeds the other, in fact makes the other possible. I found it very successful although sometimes a bit didactic.
"Simple Men," "Amateur," and "Henry Fool" are among the films of Hal Hartley--one of the wittiest and most sophisticated independent directors working in America today.
After seeing "Simple Men," I eagerly waited the release on video of each new Hartley film, and relentlessly hunted down his early work and short films as well. Mostly, I found his movies to be totally and refreshingly offbeat, unpredictable, and irreverent--yet also very watchable--with great plots, likable characters, and a sense of humor that was wry and goofy by turns.
His photographic style was crisp and painterly; and though it may it may have looked conventional, its flat lighting and muted colors, coupled with deadpan dialogue and the movement and ear of a good play, it was obvious to anyone that this was genuine "auteur" direction.
But Hartley's more recent work"The Book of Life," "No Such Thing," and now "The Girl from Monday," has failed to stir in me even the slightest interest. There are vestiges in these films of vintage Hartley; but the thrill is definitely gone.
As he did in "The Book of Life," Hartley once again decides to offset the horizon in almost every scenea few degrees to the left, a few degrees to the rightand he indulges in other eccentricities as well, like cutting out frames to make the motion jagged, or moving the camera in and out of focusin short adding disruption after disruption--all to no purpose that I can discover. Personally, I find nothing interesting and nothing functional in this new, crabbed style of his.
The plot of "Girl" is jejune in the extremeyet another distopic look at a future of totalitarian rule, with a bit of alien intervention to muddy the mix still further. (Someone on this list compared the sci-fi facet to "The Man Who Fell To Earth." Indeed, the theft is so blatant, Roeg should have been mentioned in the credits.) This movie has little to recommend iteven for a Hartley enthusiast like I (was).
It has a promising plot line, and some quite interesting performances and direction, but overall I felt the film lacked substance.
Except for its unique idea of sex-for-points, it's filled with simple notions such as "advertising is bad" and "freedom is good." Both are valid beliefs, but neither are explored with much originality.
It played out like a weak version of an excellent novel or short story. Great soundtrack, though.
(BTW, I believe the opening credits read "A Science Fiction by Hal Hartley," not "A Science Fiction Film by Hal Hartley," as the first reviewer wrote. Not sure exactly what he means by that, but it is probably significant to Hartley.)
Shown at New York's Museum of Modern Art, January 2005. Introduced by the Directer with the major cast in attendance.
A satirical swipe at Big Government and Big Business. Government and business are in a conspiracy to exploit the public. The film also ridicules the situation in the schools where guns are checked at the door. The main characters are rebelling against the big powers.
Life is not good for the workers. Everything is turned into a profit maker for the big company which is an arm of the government. Sex, for example, cannot be enjoyed for pleasure but is used to earn purchasing credits. Sex for pleasure is punishable.
All students take Attention Deficit pills. The school situation is so bad, that a criminal sentence is to teach high school for two years.
The action takes place in the "future' but the very near future as the cars, streets, clothes, etc are all modern day. The film was shot almost entirely in downtown Manhattan. Some parts looks like a hand held camera was used but the resulting film is professional in look and color.
The acting and action move the action along at a nice pace. The Girl From Monday arrives from a planet(?)called Monday. A space visitor is not really necessary to the story but it allows the "Monday" character to observe the local people with a fresh eye.
The "bad" motives and actions of the government, corporation, and The Police are beaten to death with a fairly heavy hand but that is the point of the film which arose from a "rant" written by the Director who later decided to put his criticisms on film.
Have not seen any of this director's previous films to compare but this film was an enjoyable look at what could happen if the "Military/Industrial Complex" of the 1950's becomes the Government/Industrial Complex of today.
I admire the delicious political cynicism of this film, but it's too bad a lot of 'art-house' critics inject profundity into films where no such profundity exists. It always reminds me of James Joyce's remark after reading a particularly pontificating, over-analyzed-and-intellectualized critique of Ulysses: 'Sounds good to me; wish I'd thought of that'. (I'm paraphrasing).
Whoever said this is a 'Hartley film' is probably closest to the truth. You either 'get' the guy or you don't. Personally, I'm in the latter camp. I keep watching Hartley's films and he doesn't make me swoon (regrettably, because I hate Hollywood crap and want indie makers to succeed).
In 'The Girl From Monday,' I was confused from the get-go. The voice-over and 'establishment' shots just didn't place me at all. The acting was sub-par. If you're going to throw satiric barbs at a juicy target like capitalism, you'd better have actors with more conviction and irony in their voices. I wanted this film to register with me, but it didn't.
So hopefully this was just a blip on the screen of an otherwise good career. Was the talk of the Sundance shuttle bus...but not in a good way.
Too many amateurish techniques. Voice over narration in an attempt to get a noir feeling but most of the time was actually for exposition because the story wasn't getting told on the screen.
Bad camera technique that would be okay in small doses (ie: a dream sequence) but was tiring and distracting from the opening credits onward. Kept waiting for the "real" movie to start.
The girl from Monday doesn't make an appearance for quite awhile in the movie and then gets left in an apartment to learn to use her body (or course she swam out of the ocean quite well).
Anyway...I had to leave about the time the boy was getting "raped" in the school bathroom. Time is too precious at Sundance and I went to "Rory O'Shea was Here" and the contrast couldn't have been higher between the two.
Is probably a waste of time to anyone but his fans.
Is this Hartley following Godard's footsteps and becoming "political"? Political commentary is never interesting, unless it is executed in an interesting way. Luckily, this is one of those cases.
I'm amazed at the quality of the shots considering they used a DCR-VX2000 for this movie. How many cameras did they use? One I suspect.
Hartley's World is that of an intelligent essayist, specially since he quit making movies like "Surviving Desire" and "Trust". "Theory of Achievement" was heavily influenced by "La Chinoise", as much as the form of a "short" could take it. Here we have the same intent, but turned into a fictional narrative. It works, but only if you understand the reasoning behind it.
I would like to suggest to those who comment on this film, of which there are many, that if one is to judge this movie as 'simplistic' or trite, then one has to answer a set of questions raised by the film -
1. What is the relation between embodiment and desire? Hartley raises this beautifully with the presentation of the girl, and intertwines it with the other themes (among many!) that I would like to point out.
2. What is the role of Christianity in this film? The word become flesh, the girl reading a study bible, the interviewer asking Jack if he is religious, and the idea of sacrifice and martyrdom all raise this issue in interesting and provocative ways. (this is especially interesting considering the film's conclusion and the question it raises about the possibility of a messiah in a capitalist context (i.e. where "value" only means monetary value))
3. What is the relation between desire and the structures of society? Does desire resist that power structure, or is it rather created by that power structure? The film raises the question of whether or not the resistance that is possible is also "good for business," and suggests that desire is fully malleable by the power structure. BUT, it also opens the possibility for real resistance, without being overly optimistic about this.
There are many many other interesting questions raised by this wonderful and thoughtful film, but these are just a few that immediately strike me as central, and which do not seem to play a role in the criticism of the film voiced by many of its detractors.
It is important to develop the skill to enjoy many types of film - important insofar as it simply increases pleasure in watching film - and so it is best to be able to ignore problems with the low production value and bad acting and to enjoy it for its strengths, rather than focus on the negative and not enjoy one's time with the film.
P.S. Anyone else wondering about the references to Homer's Odyssey in the film? So many questions . . .
The dialogue is stilted, the acting is just awful, the back story is sketchy---especially frustrating in a film that hangs on its back story---and the "futuristic" props are so cheap as to be comical. The social-scientific concept of the movie sounds rather intriguing when read in summary on Wikipedia, but it's not fleshed out in the film. Worse yet, there's no connection established between that concept and the extra-terrestrial aspects of the story. Overall, this movie lacks a coherent plot, on top of stunningly poor execution. Indeed, the best thing about this film is the titles design. So watch those and move on---don't waste the next 80 minutes of your life.
Kind of like an episode of X Files.... Girl from Monday has a basic outline of a plot, but we are given more questions than answers. "Someone" from the future comes back looking for "someone else". There's an underground gang of revolutionaries, which keeps almost getting caught. And in the future, somehow sexual intercourse between people has monetary value... but so many inconsistencies here. When William and Cecile have unauthorized love, only she seems to be caught and punished. Yet when Jack and Cecile ALMOST make love, only Jack is punished. The cops of the future seem much more adept at catching people making love than bombing government buildings. and Jack holds down a full time job that does... what, exactly? The basic premise is actually really good, but the script is pretty shaky. Needed tightening up. And the first five minutes employed strange edits, freeze frames, slow motion, and weird jumps. Thankfully, that stopped after the first few minutes. almost turned it off. The only big name I recognized was Edie Falco, from Sopranos and Nurse Jackie. Looks like the director uses her in a bunch of his films. If you like futuristic films which are a little fuzzy, plot wise, and don't mind having many un-answered questions, you'll probably like this one. From Hal Hartley, who has been writing and directing for years. Currently showing on Fandor Channel.
Hal Hartley has always been an inconsistent filmmaker. He made the terrific Trust and a lot of good movies like Henry Fool and The Unbelievable Truth, but he has also made a frightening number of movies that are really, really, bad.
After the excellent Henry Fool, Hartley reached a sort of consistency, pumping out consistently terrible movies one after the other like Fay Grimm, No Such Thing, Book of Life, and the abysmal Girl from Monday.
Girl from Monday is a few different sorts of bad. It is a trite sci-fi story of the sort written by people who haven't read enough science fiction to know that their ideas are unoriginal. It is convoluted storytelling poorly held together by an inescapable voice-over in lieu of using action to tell story. It is filmed in a purposefully artsy style involving odd angles and breaks in action that does nothing to further the story and fails to create an interesting style.
Hartley is always at his best exploring the lives of odd people who can't communicate. But this movie has little of that classic Hartley approach to conversation outside of a short chat early on between the two leads. Mainly it's either narration or two characters exchanging information in a straightforward but uninteresting way.
Like No Such Thing and Fay Grimm, this is a genre movie from a director who is incapable of making genre movies. It is admirable that Hartley likes to try new things, but it's remarkable how bad he is when he gets out of his groove.
By the way, some people have suggested this is Hartley being Goddard. I absolutely hate Goddard. Just so you know where I'm coming from.