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Mondays in the Sun Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/12/2003

It’s an odd feeling to write a review of a movie I saw months ago.  I saw Los Lunes al sol (Mondays in the Sun) last April at a press screening (I think…it’s been awhile), but I didn’t write my review of it until now, because it hadn’t come to theaters here in Denver until today.  If a film is particularly memorable, time shouldn’t matter, especially after only a few months.  Unfortunately, this film isn’t that memorable.


Santa (Javier Bardem) leads a pack of unemployed men trying casually to find a job.  They had all worked for a shipyard, but when it closed, they all lost their jobs.  Some found other opportunities, like Rico (Joaquín Climent), who opened a bar with the severance check he got from the shipyard, where the others come to drown their sorrows (though he ends up letting them run up hefty tabs, since they have no money.)  Others are sadly pathetic, like Amador (Celso Bugallo), who doesn’t even try to look for a job anymore.  He sits in Rico’s bar, drinks heavily, hardly talks, and then goes home to his badly messed up apartment.  The rest of the group have fallen somewhere in between on the getting-on-with-their-life scale.  Reina (Enrique Villén) is a night watchman on a building site near the local soccer field, and he lets them watch the games from the top of the roof (the view of which is half blocked by the risers.)  Since he got this job, he hasn’t hung with the group as much, and this has put a distance between them.  José (Luis Tosar) feels like less than a man because he is unemployed while his wife, Ana (Nieve de Medina), has a job.  She works on the night shift in a canning factory and comes home every night smelling like fish, which she tries to drown out with a heavy use of deodorant.  Unknown to José, Ana is considering leaving him because she is tired of him wallowing in self pity.  Lino (José Ángel Egido) is the one in the group who has tried the hardest to find another job, but is still having no success.  He thinks it is because of his age, so at one point he dyes his hair to try to look younger, but he ends up looking greasy.  Sergei (Serge Riaboukine) is a delusional Russian who thinks he will be an astronaut someday, but blames his lack of that profession on the fall of the Soviet Union.  Santa himself takes things easy.  If he is not lying out in the sun on the northern coast of Spain, he is going to the local grocery store to snack on cheese samples.  It is at the grocery store that he meets Ángela (Laura Domínguez), the woman handing out the cheese samples.  He is attracted to her, but he doesn’t feel worthy of her in his current unemployed status.  He finds it easier to flirt with Rico’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Nata (Aida Folch.)  Santa is also the most outspoken about their layoffs.  Even though it has been three years since the event, he still rebels against “the man,” which includes refusing to pay the 8,000 peseta fine for the streetlight he smashed during a labor protest.  He dreams of one day going to Australia, where he thinks life will be easier.  The movie follows these people and their everyday life, which through a revealing event that happens to Amador, includes their consideration of the future.


This was Spain’s entry into the 2002 Academy Awards (over the more popular Talk to Her), but it wasn’t nominated.  I haven’t seen Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her yet, but I bet it was more entertaining than this film (Almodóvar got the last laugh, because he ended up becoming nominated for two other Oscars, ultimately winning Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.)  I do realize that this film cleaned house at the Goya Awards (Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars), winning six awards (Talk to Her won only one award, for Best Original Score), but it just didn’t stand out for me.


It’s not that I can’t relate to the movie.  I’ve been out of work before (as a matter of fact, I’m currently looking for another part-time job to earn some extra cash), but I purposely try to keep in good spirits.  Other foreign films that have dealt with the subject of unemployment have been a little more light-hearted.  The 1997 film The Full Monty and last year’s Happy Times involved a group of unemployed friends who dealt with their problems in a humorous way.  In a sense I guess that is not realistic, making this movie more real, but those older movies were more inspiring.  Do we really need to be reminded of how much it sucks to be out of work?


The movie wasn’t all bad, or even all depressing.  The acting here was very good.  Bardem, the man most famously known in the States as the first Spanish actor to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actor category (for the 2000 movie Before Night Falls), bravely lets himself go by packing on the pounds and growing a thick beard to add to his believable performance.  His character also adds the most levity.  At one point in the movie, he offers to take over babysitting duties for Nata so she can visit her boyfriend, and so he can earn the miniscule wage she was going to receive.  He ends up ranting about the government to his friends that he invites over, barely paying attention to the kid (believe me, it’s funnier than it sounds.)

Through my research, I learned that director Fernando León de Aranoa based Mondays in the Sun on his own experiences.  He obviously got on with his life, but he must have thought it was too unrealistic to allow his characters to do that as well.  Once you have found a job, you don’t tend to think about that period in your life when you were unemployed often (or at least I don’t.)  Like the faded memories of my unemployment past, my memories of watching this film have started to leave me.  Even though I will give this film a so-so rating based on the excellent acting performances, overall I think I will spend my Mondays watching another film.


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