Jobs are long gone, but not their pride

'Sun' about men rolling with punches

October 03, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

What to do, when everything has been taken from you but your pride and your anger?

That's the central challenge of Mondays in the Sun, Spanish director Fernando Leon de Aranda's carefully textured look at a group of laid-off shipbuilders struggling with ... well, struggling with just about everything.

Javier Bardem (Oscar-nominated for Before Night Falls) is Santa. Three years ago, he and his fellow shipbuilders staged a massive strike rather than accept cutbacks in their workforce, and the price they paid for that principled action was high. Eventually, they signed an agreement to end the job action, and since then, hundreds of middle-age laborers have been laid off. Santa was one of the first, and he's spent the past three years alternately looking for work, and trying to convince himself he doesn't need it.

But he does, not only to pay his bills, but to give him (as well as his friends) a sense of purpose, a direction in their lives, a feeling that they're worth something. Of late, he's been reduced to distributing handbills and occasional babysitting jobs; the low pay is bad enough, but how's he supposed to find solace and meaning in such menial work?

Bardem is but the best-known member of a uniformly strong cast that includes Luis Tosar as Jose, whose wife has become the family wage-earner (and is slowly becoming a cripple from having to be on her feet eight hours a day) and Jose Angel Egido as Lino, who alone among the group entertains no thought of giving up. Though it seems futile - in a flooded labor market, who wants to hire a middle-age man with no marketable skills? - he keeps going on interview after interview, getting his son to teach him how to use a computer, even dying his hair. Nothing works.

There's a dignity to Mondays in the Sun that manages to keep the film buoyant, helping to keep all the despair at bay. The film is far from optimistic, but in a sly way, it is hopeful; there's a palpable sense of camaraderie pervading the film, and lots of gallows humor. These men may be down, they may even be out, but they're still men.

Mondays in the Sun

Starring Javier Bardem, Luis Tosar

Directed and co-written by Fernando Leon de Aranda

Rated R (language)

Released by Lions Gate Pictures (in Spanish, with English subtitles)

Time 113 minutes

Sun Score ***1/2

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