Mondays in the Sun: A Glum Spanish Unemployment Drama

FERNANDO LEON DE ARANOA'S relentlessly dead-end melodrama about unemployed shipyard workers in Northern Spain has obviousness problems. Mondays in the Sun, which opens Friday, Aug. 22, at the Metro, is an unsuspense film in which no unexpected event occurs. It resembles On the Waterfront with all the plot surgically removed. It's as boring as a performance artist in a deep coma. And yet if you stick with it and avoid slipping into a coma yourself, you'll soak up its morosely rebellious spirit and even glimpse fugitive wisps of greatness. In submitting Mondays (instead of Almodóvar's Talk to Her!) for last year's foreign-language Oscar and awarding it the Goya for Best Picture, the Spanish film establishment was doing what the laid-off, pissed-off antiheroes of the film do: defy reality, celebrate futility, strike a self-defeatingly proud pose, and insist that attention must be paid to the losers in the worldwide war between capital and labor. These losers' leader is Santa, played by Javier Bardem, looking heftier than in Before Night Falls but, in a tamped-down way, just as magnetic. Bardem's half-mast bedroom eyes are great at conveying thwarted rage, a refusal to knuckle under to humiliation. They give a sense of his being in on the essential Kafka joke fate plays on these workless workers: Of course there's plenty of hopejust not for us! With his massive forehead and lumbering gait, Bardem's Santa resembles a melancholy ape or a caveman who just invented the wheel only to see it roll down the hill and disappear into the ocean. The other losers are sketchier, one-note characters. Amador (Celso Bugallo) is the drunkest of the drunks who hang out at the local bar with Santa. (It's the center of the film, kind of like the Cheers bar with the jokes removedthis film could be titled Cheerless.) Lino (José Ángel Egido) grouses about his gray hair and the flop sweat he endures every time he loses a job to a younger applicant, which happens every day. José (Luis Tosar) knits his brow and pummels his liver over the plight of his wife, Ana (Nieve de Medina), who's worn out by her tuna-packing factory job and embittered by their lack of a child, a car, a house, anything. Each night she washes the fish stench off with deodorant, like Susan Sarandon bathing with lemons in Atlantic City, only with the lyric poignancy removed. The only guy who's richish is Rico (Joaquín Climent), who wisely invested his shipyard severance in the bar his friends use to spend theirs. The beauty of Mondays lies in its small, true moments: a soccer match the guys watch from a rooftopthey can see everything but the goal; a baby-sitting gig at a millionaire's manse, subcontracted from Rico's teenage tease of a daughter; Santa's flirtation with a girl who gives out free cheese at the grocery. But the moments are too small and too few. The Spaniards who spurned Almodóvar for Aranoa deserve to be permanently unemployed. I do, however, second their opinion in giving Bardem the Goya for Best Actor. tappelo@seattleweekly.com

 
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