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.