Javier Bardem, who won an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls, has managed to top himself in Fernando LÃon de Aranoa's Mondays in the Sun. Here, he plays Santa, an unemployed shipyard worker in northern Spain who, along with several other unemployed shipyard workers, spends most of his time at the local bar, licking his wounds. None of the men have gotten over what happened to them ' laid off by a company bent on squeezing every last penny of profit out of the global market. But Santa, with his jelly-belly and lust for life, had the most to lose. Bardem has put on so much weight for the role that you barely recognize him. And he's hidden the character in there somewhere, buried the man that Santa used to be inside the man he's become.
It's a beautifully layered performance ' defiance shading into amusement shading into resignation shading into fear, all without losing sight of Santa's dignity. Of course, dignity is just another word for nothing left to lose. And de Aranoa, who also co-wrote the script, doesn't give the men an easy out; there will be no opportunities to display their full montys. Instead, they'll have to settle for displays of affection, the tiny gestures that, to the undiscerning eye, are indistinguishable from insults. When Santa grabs the tip left on a table and slips it into the jukebox, the owner of the bar, who's also an unemployed shipyard worker, calls him on it. "You're still going to get it," Santa growls, suddenly assuming the role of exploited worker. Then he almost imperceptibly smiles and says, "I'm investing in your business."
The movie's sensitive to politics ' the worldwide labor/management struggle that's left so many men Stiffed, as Susan Faludi so evocatively referred to it in her 1999 book. And in a macho, Latin-lover culture like Spain's, getting stiffed is all the more emasculating. One of the men, a quiet guy named JosÃ (Luis Tosar), has to watch his wife, a cannery worker, go through her nightly ritual of scrubbing the smell of fish off her body, and it's a toss-up which one of them hates it more. Mondays in the Sun can hardly be said to wallow in pain, although the call of "Solidarity Forever" has become the last-call of "Pour me another one." To his credit, de Aranoa finds a thin ray of hope in this grubby little bar where, if nothing else, everybody knows your name. Thanks in large part to his lead actor, Mondays is both utterly amusing and unutterably sad.