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By Admin | May 4, 2005

Great science-fiction is not about special effects – it is all about special writing. Indeed, the most compelling science-fiction productions are those with screenplays that challenge the morality and complacency of the viewers (think of “The Twilight Zone” and the original “Star Trek” series). Even the low-tech (by today’s standards) 1977 “Star Wars,” with its obvious inspiration from the cheesy Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers serials of the 1930s, is eons away from the later Episodes One and Two with its surplus of CGI and its deficit of interesting characters and dialogue.

As we drift into a summer season where big-budget sci-fi (with its multi-million-dollar effects) promises to reign, let’s give a fast cheer to a tiny sci-fi movie which achieves much more mileage on a shoestring budget: Hal Hartley’s “The Girl from Monday.” Yes, Hal Hartley. He’s not exactly a sci-fi name, to be certain, but his new film is pure and undiluted sci-fi with its richly textured and endlessly wise storytelling skills.

“The Girl from Monday” takes place in New York of a not-too-distant future. Society has been taken over by Triple M (Major Multimedia Monopoly), which advocates the concept of consumer priorities while actually creating an uber-conformist dictatorship. Free choice and personal autonomy has become taboo. Even spontaneous sexual intercourse is illegal, an all sexual acts need to be registered in accordance with a government plan in which monetary point values are provided to the fornicators.

Somewhere in the midst of this is Jack Bell, who works for the advertising agency that helped bring Triple M to power. Jack is a secret leader of the Counter Revolution, a movement of ragtag membership and goals. His chief operative is a h***y 17-year-old who manages to seduce one of Jack’s colleagues, getting her arrested and sentenced to two years hard labor “teaching high school” (in this future world, schools are so dangerous that only convicts get to provide lessons!).

If that’s not enough, there is the eponymous character: an alien who literally falls from the heavens and lands in the ocean. The alien takes the best possible human form imaginable (Brazilian model Tatiana Abracos), but she runs the risk of being seized by Triple M’s army. Jack has to hide her in his apartment and give her a crash course on how to be an alien.

“The Girl from Monday” recalls elements of “THX 1138,” “Alphaville,” “1984,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Fahrenheit 451” and Antero Alli’s 1995 sci-fi videofilm “The Drivetime.” Yet Hartley, in fashioning a future where individualism and emotion are stifled in favor of irresponsible consumerism and government-enforced conformity, creates a work with more than a few parallels to today’s American society. In this age of arrogant government and a population bullied into not questioning how things are being run, it feels as if “The Girl from Monday” is not so much a work of fantasy as a funhouse mirror shining at contemporary Americana.

And this is where the film scores brilliantly. There is no need for complex camera trickery, sound manipulation, or any other celluloid sleight-of-hand. Outside of a couple of soldiers with souped-up uniforms and weapons, “The Girl from Monday” is very contemporary in its look and feel. People drink diner coffee in cheap cups, ride bicycles down traffic clogged streets, gobble pills from yellow-tan pharmacy bottles, and gab on cell phones. But when there are slight distortions in the norm (whether books are banned, or free expression is criminalized, or even making spontaneous sex a crime), then things go out of bounds in regard to reality. But how far out of bounds are they, really? Hartley imagines a future where Thoreau is banned, but in certain parts of the American South there is huge pressure to keep Darwin from school children. Hartley’s film imagines a film where those who protest against authority are jailed – remember the protests against the Republican National Convention in New York last year? And while sex is not a crime in America, state legislatures don’t want people of the same sex to be joined in marriage. Does this sound like science fiction?

“The Girl from Monday” is blessed with a great ensemble, lead by Bill Sage as Jack Bell (exuding a Robert Mitchum-worthy insouciance), Sabrina Lloyd as the ad executive “sentenced” to teach high school, Leo Fitzpatrick as the teenage operative/sex machine (a hilarious character, given the actor is so very ordinary in appearance and mannerisms), and of course the aforementioned Tatiana Abracos (who enters the film falling into the ocean in full frontal nudity – now that’s my idea of an alien invasion!).

I’ve not seen “Revenge of the Sith” or “War of the Worlds” or the other sci-fi stuff on tap for the summer, but so what? In my book, “The Girl from Monday” is sci-fi at its best. What a great, great movie!

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