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Mondays In The Sun (R)
Lions Gate
Official Site
Director: Fernando Leon de Aranoa
Producers: Elias Querejeta, Jaume Roures
Written by: Fernando Leon de Aranoa, Ignacio del Moral
Cast: Javier Bardem, Luis Tosar, Jose Angel Egido, Nieve De Medina

Rating: out of 5

Could be that when we’ve exited the season of guns and special effects (which I enjoy as much as the next person), we’ll look back at Mondays In The Sun and find it to be somewhat slighter than it seems now. But I hope not. I’d like to encourage the sort of movie where the story seems to follow a well-trodden cinematic path, only to wander off down the sorts of byways that make life—and film—unpredictable and interesting.

The movie opens to the sounds of gentle guitar music, an unlikely background to labor riot, complete with tire burnings and police blockade, at a Spanish shipyard. Years later, the story takes up the lives of three of the former dockworkers. They are still unemployed. Lino (Egido) still doggedly looks for work, despite so strong a conviction that no one will hire a 40+ man that he breaks out in flop sweat before every interview. Though José (Tosar) seems to accept the prospect of never working again with a calmly resigned shrug, resentment at being supported by his wife’s cannery job lurks just below the surface. Santa (Bardem) is bitter and pissed off and taking it out on everyone around him—his mates, the bartender who lets him run up a tab, the women he picks up and casually beds.

These three spend their days at a bar run by another former dockworker, idling and having vaguely Tarantino-esque guy conversations. In Santa’s case, there’s also a lot of posturing and, well, aggressive primate display. Bardem here reminded me of the late Oliver Reed, another actor with a bear-like, imposing physicality. Santa is the type of guy guys hang out with even though they know that his company guarantees snafus: Testosterone-fueled mayhem is all over him like a cheap suit. But Santa’s isn’t just a macho fuck-up. He’s got an axe to grind, and a pretty legit axe at that. Santa’s grievance is best expressed in the classic joke told by a Russian émigré who hangs out at the bar with the guys:

“Comrade, I have bad news. Everything they told us about communism is false. And I have worse news. Everything they told us about capitalism is true.”

These dockworkers are victims of what Perot called the “giant sucking sound” of jobs heading overseas. While reading the fable of “The Grasshopper and The Ant” to the kid he’s babysitting, Santa protests and inserts his own social commentary about the plight of those who are born grasshoppers.

What’s a man without his work? A lot of Mondays In The Sun deals with this question, and the question of where male identity resides. The self-identification with  one’s job means that the loss of employment isn’t merely a loss of livelihood. These Spanish men, remaindered in their prime, are not of the same plucky stripe as the redundant Britons depicted in Brassed Off! or The Full Monty, who took lemons and made lemon squash. To a man, these guys are whipped—some with the energy to still snarl at fate, some not. Even the bartender, who took his shipyard severance—a settlement that, to Santa, is akin to the 30 pieces of silver—and opened a tavern, finds no joy in his new existence.

The interactions between the men, while often maddening, are also quite believable. And really, who has not seen far worse behavior for far less cause? Occasionally, these men try to be “guys.” In one particularly endearing scene, a funeral and drinking lead to some rather storied and predictable guy behavior of the sort that Fairbanks’ chums supposedly indulged in with his corpse, only to turn to gentle comedy. This is a pleasant-enough guy study that is worth seeing again.

—Roxanne Bogucka


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