Mondays in The Sun

UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

Javier Bardem
Luis Tosar
Jose Angel Egido

directed by
Fernando Leon De Aranoa

On the face of it, a film dealing with the subject of unemployment does not sound an appealing prospect. But it is to Fernando Leon De Aranoa’s credit that he turns the situation into an extremely watchable and curiously likeable film.

Mondays In The Sun (Los Lunes Al Sol) is, of course, anything but blue skies and sultry Spanish sunsets. It is gritty, bleak at times and often very, very grey.

The opening scene places the characters in context, a demonstration against the imminent closure of their shipyard getting out of hand, the riot police struggling to contain the angry workers. Among the picketers are seven casualties of the firm’s relocation to Korea, left high and dry without work.

This problem manifests itself in different ways. Bardem, the ringleader, is the one character who seems to have real fire in his heart, the one who stands up for himself when presented with a fine and civil court action for smashing a lamppost – an incident with a devilish twist in its tail. Around him the mood is sombre, with De Aranoa capturing that weird combination of lethargy and worthlessness that goes with the territory in long-term unemployment. These people may be free to spend their Mondays in the sun, but are rarely allowed the chance to appreciate it.

Bardem’s character Santa dreams of emigration to Australia, his justification? “They’re Antipodean, so all that’s bad here is good over there.” The first appearance of this fantasy life coincides with a dazzling pool of sunshine, which may sound cliched but is manipulated extremely well.

Of Santa’s friends and acquaintances, Jose (Luis Tosar) is perfectly cast, a sombre man whose face lights up when he smiles, an expression we see all too rarely. This often happens when his wife Ana (Nieve de Medina) is around, her breaks from working the nightshift at a fish-canning factory few and far between. Lino (Egido) is an older man, struggling to mask his age in an attempt to find the right job with the aid of hair colouring and smart clothes. He is one of the few clinging on to the hope that one day this will all change. For the elder Amador (Celso Bugallo) positive change is not on the agenda, as he descends into drink fuelled oblivion. Completing the group are ex-cosmonaut Sergei, Reina, the only one to have regular employment, and Rico, in whose soulless bar they all convene at the end of the day.

Sound depressing? Not so. These people struggle with everyday problems but there is such attention to detail and subtle humour, from Bardem in particular, that the film is never dull, despite the occasional flagging of pace. There are touching scenes in a karaoke bar, in Jose and Ana’s flat, in Amador’s ghastly residence. Bardem annoys and charms in equal measure, the screen coming alive when his impish nature is the centre of attention, while the only bright and shining eyes belong to Nata, Rico’s fifteen year old daughter played with a knowing innocence by Aida Foulch. She has youth on her side.

It’s not a happy ending for all – that would destroy the nature of the film – and De Aranoa’s brave attempt to paint a realistic picture of the pains of unemployment largely succeeds. We are encouraged to care for these people, no matter how infuriating their lethargy might become. As a study of the human spirit when faced with adversity, Mondays makes its understated mark.

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