This review was corrected on Oct. 2, 2002.
“Mondays in the Sun” is a powerful parable about unemployed men which confirms Fernando Leon de Aranoa as one of Spain’s brightest young talents. (Pic won best film award at San Sebastian.) Taking its lead — sometimes a little too obviously — from Brit helmer Ken Loach, Leon’s third feature is a tough-but-tender movie driven by perfectly modulated performances, an accomplished script and naturalistic dialogue, all at the service of an oft-told message about overcoming circumstances. Film also consolidates Javier Bardem’s reputation as the country’s leading young thesp. His presence at pic’s heart, plus Leon’s burgeoning reputation, will mean top-drawer B.O. at home and, at the least, fest showings abroad.
Leon has worked on several politically-themed docus since his last feature, “Neighborhood” (1998), which focused on a gang of inseparable teenagers; the characters in “Mondays” could be the same kids, 20 years down the line. The moral integrity of “Sun” is apparent in every scene, the script carefully looking at the social absurdities which have led these men, no better or worse than average, into their present mess.
Santa (Bardem, with heavy beard, several extra pounds and grungy attire), insecure Jose (stubbly Luis Tosar) and sweaty-palmed Lino (Jose Angel Egido) were sacked from a shipyard in Vigo, northern Spain. They are aboard a boat, crossing the river, for one of Lino’s fruitless job interviews. The laconic, inconsequential dialogue is Pinteresque, the chatter of men who have time to talk in circles.
Accompanied by aging Amador (Celso Bugallo) and Russian Sergei (Serge Riaboukine), they spend their days wandering aimlessly and drinking in the shabby bar owned by Rico (Joaquin Clement). Rico’s 15-year-old daughter, Nata (Aida Folch), flirts wildly with Santa, who doesn’t hide his interest.
Santa dreams of escaping to Australia although he has a court case pending after breaking a lamp post. He spends his days picking up women and having sex, particularly with Angela (Laura Dominguez), whom he meets in a supermarket, but is unable to commit further.
Jose’s relationship with his beautiful but weary wife, Ana (Nieve De Medina), likewise suffers, as his lack of dignity from unemployment makes him paranoid and jealous. Ana works in a tuna-canning factory and sprays herself obsessively with perfume each night to cover up the smell.
Nata subcontracts her babysitting work to the cash-strapped Santa, who then invites the gang round to the house. In one of the film’s most telling sequences, Santa reads a bedside tale to the child he is babysitting and becomes comically/tragically angry at the false view of the world it presents.
Thesps generate a real ensemble feel. Bardem plays Santa as a big, indignant man with a golden heart. Tosar, who till now has played secondary roles, here emerges as a full-blown talent and a perfect counterpoint. Unknown Egido, as the battered older Lino in a young man’s world, is superbly impassive as he moves slowly toward self-acceptance.
Lucio Godoy’s guitar-based score is attractive and low-key. Alfredo F. Mayo’s lensing eschews any obvious, handheld docu style, preferring unobtrusiveness while drawing out the ugly post-industrial urban landscape. Apart from a couple of scenes, latter is shot under an appropriately gray, lowering sky.