Mondays in the Sun
aka Los lunes al Sol

Mondays in the Sun

Spanish language. Spain, 2002. Rated R. 113 minutes.

Cast: Javier Bardem, Luis Tosar, José Ángel Egido, Nieve de Medina, Enrique Villén, Celso Bugallo, Joaquín Climent, Aida Folch, Serge Riaboukine, Laura Domínguez, Andrés Lima
Writers: Fernando León de Aranda, Ignacio del Moral
Music: Lucio Godoy
Cinematography: Alfredo F. Mayo
Producers: Elías Querejeta, Jaume Roures
Director: Fernando León de Aranda


Grade: C Review by Carlo Cavagna

The winner of five Goya Awards and the top prize at the San Sebastian film festival, Mondays in the Sun comes to us from Spain highly decorated and highly recommended. Set in an economically depressed port on Spain's north coast, Mondays in the Sun cinematically recreates the despair of being aimlessly and chronically unemployed. Part sophisticated drama, part pro-union remonstration, Mondays in the Sun observes the efforts of a group of laid-off shipbuilders to survive, weaving its near-invisible threads so subtly that the pattern is indiscernible until the film approaches its conclusion. Mondays in the Sun is perfectly crafted and an unabashedly emphatic left-wing statement.

It's also as boring as a trip across Kansas on a Greyhound bus.

Mondays in the Sun is an example of what can happen when a film functions exclusively on the intellectual level. Thinking about it as a film-school professor might, it is impossible to find fault, but on the emotional, gut level, Mondays in the Sun fails utterly to connect. It's an academic exercise. There's a perfectly good artistic reason for the lack of spirit—most of the characters have had their spirit mercilessly crushed out of them, and the film wants to place itself in their shoes. The presence of a good reason, however, doesn't make the film any less listless.

Director Fernando León de Aranda has concentrated too much on creating the right atmosphere and making the desired political points. The whole film is built around a polemical outburst by irreverent Santa (Javier Bardem), a flawed but unbowed man who has made a crusade out of defying court orders to pay for a fifty-dollar street lamp he broke during a riot. It's an impressive speech. Bardem stars as SantaThough angry and bitter, it is vigorous, cogent, and well-argued, making discredited (according to conventional wisdom) pro-labor, quasi-communist ideals sound fresh and inspirational. It's more of a lecture from the filmmaker than a scene, but because of its fervor, it's actually the moment in which the film speaks most strongly to the audience.

A few other moments in Mondays in the Sun stick out, like when Lino (José Ángel Egido) fights age discrimination by coloring his hair, only to have the color begin to run down his neck right before he's called in for his job interview. The story arc involving Amador (Celso Bugallo), an older drunkard who has long given up, also becomes compelling when Santa realizes Amador represents the younger friends' future.

The immensely talented Bardem stands tall as Santa, demonstrating a gift for both physical and psychological makeovers. Having played an passionate homosexual poet through several stages of life in Before Night Falls and a reserved government functionary full of repressed yearning in The Dancer Upstairs, Bardem appears here heavier, bearded, and sporting a receding hairline (unfortunately a rather obvious shave job). Though he is just a member of a capable ensemble cast, he effortlessly commands the film without diminishing the other characters.

On the whole, however, Mondays in the Sun is a film about indirection and fragmentation that comes across as indirect and fragmented. Nor are Aranda's characters as heroic or self-aware as he seems to think they are (and has said they are). Rather, they seem trapped in time, languid and lost. There's a difference between a hero and a victim of circumstance. A hero rises above his circumstances against the odds, or at the very least copes with them. These characters do not do that, and the ending offers no hope that they will. This is, after all, a political film. If they could change their circumstances, then there would be no need for others to care and intervene.

Mondays in the Sun fulfills all the traditional criteria for a Serious Movie—the ones that specify that a film should be important, should tell the truth, and should serve a purpose. Viewers who have such rigid ideas about what constitutes worthwhile cinema will no doubt love Mondays in the Sun. But those who don't enjoy films based on a clinical evaluation of merit may find their Mondays in the Sun to be hazy and overcast.

Review © July 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2003 Lions Gate Films. All Rights Reserved.

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