Mondays in the Sun Movie Review

Unemployment is an emasculating predicament. This small scale social study of a few men coping with it shows the depression and general lassitude that fills their days and months and the strain on their Latin machismo, sense of dignity and resourcefulness.

Carlos "Santa" Santamaría (Javier Bardem), José Suárez (Luis Tosar), and Paulino "Lino" Ribas Casado (José Ángel Egido) congregate in fellow ex-worker Rico's (Joaquín Climent) makeshift bar for what might be group therapy among fellow ex-boatyard workers approaching 50 but with zero bank balances. They commiserate together, share woes and complaints, and listen to each other's rage at the circumstances of their discharge from the port city's now-defunct shipyard. It's a self-support group for the disenfranchised that occasionally becomes a "gang that couldn't shoot straight" for much needed comic relief. But there's not enough of that for this film to go the way of The Full Monty, which it may have aspired to.

Lino is the one who actually goes out regularly to personnel waiting rooms to submit his qualifications, fill out his applications, and fight the unstated preference for younger workers. Prideful José is surviving on his wife Ana's (Nieve de Medina) paycheck from the tuna packing plant and shows no sign of following in Lino's well-worn path, content with his drink and nocturnal reunions at home. Santa, the bachelor of the lot, seems to have the time to flirt with Rico's talented and sweet teenage daughter Natalia (Aïda Folch), plotting babysitting substitutions with her and adventures with his "men." He also has the time to philosophize on the beach, in the sun, with pal Lino, on Monday. Or just about any day.

The examination of the social consequences of a failing economy is realized most vitally through Santa, the crabby, mischievous one with the charisma and originality to be the group's nominal leader. The film, which projects no change in the grim situation, no break out of the desperation, no hope for a better destiny, ultimately reduces us to pathos. We get our spirits lifted when the four guys enjoy a soccer match from the free seats on a construction site that overlooks half the stadium and when they confiscate the public ferry in order to cast their dead friend's ashes into the sea -- but these moments are given sparingly, as though to avoid losing the main message.

Writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa, based his story on the real layoffs in the boatyards of Gijón (Asturias) and set his production in the oceanfront city of Vigo (Galicia) in the extreme northwest of Spain. It documents his own experience years earlier, demonstrating his country's essential disregard for the victims of economic change where there was no social safety net as in the U.S., no unemployment insurance to cover lapses in work. He succeeds in pointing out the curative powers of humor during such downbeat days, but the few examples of how a man's spirit might win out over adversity are not enough to punch up fascination for the subject matter. In this script, gravity rules.

Holding it all together within a dramatic framework is the magnetic presence of Bardem, Spain's Brando. Given a limited palette for performance, this commanding actor manages to hold your attention through the ennui and the contemplation with flashes of inner strength and insistence on a little justice. Without his underplayed potency, the popcorn out in the lobby would seem a more compelling attraction.

Aka Los Lunes al Sol.

Not very sunny, IMHO.


Comments

Mondays in the Sun Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2003

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