Mondays in the Sun



Los Lunes al Sol : Spain 2002 : Fernando LEON DE ARANOA : 113 mins

Though named 2002’s best film by Spain’s biggest film festival (San Sebastian) and also at the national equivalent of the Academy Awards (the Goyas), Mondays in the Sun made its biggest headlines when selected as the country’s official entry for the Foreign-Language section of the Oscars – ahead of no less a candidate than Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her. But while Almodovar went on to rack up a notable double hammy of nominations in the Direction and Original Screenplay categories, Mondays failed to make the five-strong Foreign-Language shortlist.

In this instance, the Academy got it right: Leon de Aranoa’s third feature – co-written with Ignacio del Moral – is little more than a pleasantly genial, small-scale, character-based comedy-drama examining the effects of unemployment on a group of sacked shipyard workers. Pitched roughly halfway between The Full Monty and the grittier Marseilles panoramas of Robert Guedigian (La Vie est Tranquille), it’s by no means ineffective in what it does, but this turf has been covered rather too often both on the big screen and the small.

Like Guedigian, Leon de Aranoa concentrates on a port city best known in the rest of Europe for its football team – Vigo, not far from Portugal in Spain’s far north-western corner and home of Celta Vigo. At one point our heroes – including gruff Santa (Javier Bardem), ageing Jose (Luis Tosar in the ‘Tom Wilkinson’ role) and nervy Lino (Jose Angel Egido) – even get to “watch” a Celta game thanks to a friend working in the stadium as a security guard. Their eyrie-like perch, however means can’t actually see one of the goal areas – to their immense frustration.

Such details are typical of the quiet way Leon de Aranoa illustrates how these healthy, potentially productive men have been cruelly cut off from the active lives they previously enjoyed. There’s no mistaking the targets of his ire – as the militant Santa points out, all are victims of the globalised labour market so enthusiastically pursued by Spain’s right-wing Aznar government, despite its often drastic consequences for those thrown onto the scrap-heap.

It’s a strong, topical thesis and there’s no question that Mondays in the Sun‘s heart is in the right place. But without Bardem, the film might have easily ended up distressingly twee. As it is, Spain’s biggest star delivers yet again, and seems to be developing into another Gerard Depardieu before our eyes – not just because of his ubiquity and bearish physical heft, but also in terms of the sheer size and versatility of his talents. But instead of the burning anger of a Santa, Leon de Aranoa tells his story in an easy-going, whimsical style more attuned to the defeated, crestfallen Jose. This kind of ruefully amused, gentle tone – epitomised by Lucio Godoy’s mournful-strings score – is better suited to the likes of BBC comedy The Last of the Summer Wine than to Leon de Aranoa and Moral’s choice material, which cries out for slightly tougher handling.

8th March, 2003
(seen 31st January, Rotterdamse Schouwburg, Rotterdam – Rotterdam Film Festival)

For all the review from the Rotterdam Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young