Los lunes al sol (2002)

MONDAYS IN THE SUN (Lunes al sol, Los)

(director/writer: Fernando León de Aranoa; screenwriter: Ignacio del Moral; cinematographer: Alfredo Mayo; editor: Nacho Ruiz Capillas; music: Lucio Godoy; cast: Javier Bardem (Santa), Luis Tosar (Jose), José Ángel Egido (Lino), Nieve de Medina (Ana), Enrique Villén (Reina), Celso Bugallo (Amador), Joaquín Climent (Rico), Aida Folch (Nata), Serge Riaboukine (Sergei); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Andrea Occhipinti/Elias Querejeta/Jaume Roures/Jerome Vidal; Lions Gate Films; 2002)
“Full of sympathy for the worker’s plight.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Fernando León de Aranoa’s pessimistic but moving study of the working-class was Spain’s nominee for the best foreign language Academy Award in 2003 over Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her. It’s set in the northern Spanish port city of Vigo. When a shipyard closes to build ships cheaper in Korea, the town is hard hit by the loss of some 200 jobs. The film focuses on a group of middle-aged men, who a few years after the closing are struggling economically and psychologically to deal with that blow. The three close friends Santa (Bardem), Jose (Tosar), and Lino (Egido), can’t find another job and two are left spending the days moping around without an awareness of what day it is and the other is hopelessly hunting for a reasonable job. At night all three hang out in a bar in which a fellow laid-off shipyard worker named Rico (Climent) bought and who barely survives with only these impoverished patrons in attendance running up unpaid tabs they most likely will never be able to settle. In their circle is also Reina (Villén), who works now in a lower status job as a security guard and allows them to watch the soccer games of the local club where they only have a restricted view of the field as they watch from the roof of the building that employs him. He gets a lot of grief from his envious pals because his uniformed job makes him close to being a policeman, a job despised ever since their protest days. The oldest member of the group and the one in the worst shape is Amador (Celso Bugallo), who goes on nightly drinking binges until he can barely get home without falling and speaks in riddles about Siamese twins to express the sadness of his shame to be without work and of his secret despair that his wife deserted him.

A sense of doom hangs over the air in the port city, as only a gallows humor brings these unfortunates any feelings of hope. The film opens with a newsreel like typical spirited protest in which the workers react violently in their hard hats while facing helmeted police officers keeping them separated from the shipyard with barricades. The action then skips to a few years later after the shipyard has shut down and the despondent men have no hope of regaining a job they worked at their whole life.

Santa is the cocky, embittered, gruff rebel leader who wanted the men to stand united and not capitulate to the bosses and accept their offer to fire 80 workers to save the jobs of the others. As it turns out after the men became divided and the bosses had their way, they still closed the shipyard a year later. The bachelor and recognized ladies man, Santa, lives in a dumpy single-room apartment where he’s not allowed to bring women for overnight stays (he must sneak them in and lie about them when caught). But because he’s still spirited and defiant, the unemployed men still take comfort in his support as he will not admit to utter failure and give in to how politically impotent his situation has made him.

The unemployment motif resembles recent European films such as the penetrating but morbid Time Out and Rosetta, and the more lighthearted spoof The Full Monty in catching the different kinds of ill-effects that are caused by work deprivation and how it is difficult to separate who we are from what kind of work we do. Mondays in the Sun shows these workers emasculated and their pride threatened, as they border on losing all sense of their worth. The men each try to survive in a different way, as Santa dreams of escape to Australia while Jose and Lino cling to their wives for support. Jose’s wife Ana (Nieve de Medina) works the night shift of an assembly line at a fish processing plant that pays little and exploits the workers with poor working conditions, but she’s the family breadwinner just waiting for the day when she can tell the bosses to go fuck themselves and she can come home without having to deodorize herself from the fish smell. But she seems tired of her husband’s despair and low self-esteem, and their marriage is becoming strained as Jose is becoming a shell of a man unable to even communicate with her. Lino gets much family stability from his quiet homebody wife and his teenage son–who is teaching him computer skills. The worried grey-haired man resorts to dying his hair to try and compete in a youthful job market that has passed him by as he goes out every day dressed-up for his interviews, but no one ever calls him back for a job.

As the men drift in their state of involuntary idleness, so does the film. It’s full of sympathy for the worker’s plight and uses them to spell out its grievances with globalization, but never gets past the melancholy mood it lays down. “Mondays” seems to gain life only through the paunchy and bearded Javier Bardem’s performance. The angry man is unpredictable, whether in a meaningless gesture defiantly breaking another streetlight after the court ordered him to pay for the one he broke during the lockout or when he flirts with the cute 15-year-old Nata (Aida Folch), the daughter of Rico, and convinces her to let him take over her babysitting for a fee while she sneaks out on a date. This makes way for the film’s most explosive scene. Bardem gets the chance to read the children’s book moral parable about the ant and the grasshopper to the rich kid he’s envious of. But he gets all riled up as the bewildered kid looks at him and there’s a sense of danger in the air as he takes exception against the books grievously mistaken notion of the world divided between those who work hard and those who don’t, and that those who fail to succeed can only blame their own laziness.