Mondays in the Sun Review

With the tagline ”This film is not based on a true story – it is based on thousands”, Fernando León’s Los Lunes al Sol (Mondays In The Sun) portrays a story of unemployment, disillusionment, bitterness, poverty and desperation familiar to many in Spain’s poorer regions. However, the degree of wit and acerbic humour demonstrated by the characters and their situations ensures that it remains an accessible and entertaining look at a serious social issue.

The shipyard has closed down in a northern Spanish costal town despite bitter and violent protests, and the workers laid-off – among them Santa, José and Lino. Lino (José Ángel Egido) struggles to compete in a job market filled with people much younger and more qualified than he is; José (Luis Tosar) feels emasculated, his wife supporting them working in a fish market; Santa (Javier Bardem) is on his final court appeal against a fine imposed on him for breaking a streetlight during the riots over the shipyards closure.

Despite the grimness of the situation, the film’s script sparkles with wit and deep, black humour. Each of the characters has a distinct personality, each has a different way of dealing with their circumstances and lack of employment or prospects. Santa imagines Australia to be the ideal place – on the other side of the world, he imagines the Antipodes must be the exact opposite of everything they lack in Spain. José marvels at the amount of money a television presenter can earn, while Lino tries to change his appearance to look younger at job interviews. They all drink too much at the local bar or at the house of a babysitting job, subcontracted to them by a teenage girl – the only employment they can achieve.

The film is so well-written and performed that it is completely accessible, leaving nothing vague or ambivalent about its treatment of the subject matter. The film has a strong point to make, but it does so through humour and pathos while never betraying the dignity of the characters. Javier Bardem, almost unrecognisable with a beard and overweight, is particularly impressive, completely inhabiting the character of Santa and providing a strong centre for the film to work around. The film is also superbly balanced with the supporting cast, the depiction of the female characters giving the film a wider palette to work with – José’s wife Ana allowing us to see the wider effect of unemployment on the family, while the young teenage girl Nata represents the strength and acumen of the younger generation growing up to rise above the dire circumstances they have been brought up in.

The DVD reviewed here is the Spanish Region 2 release, which comes as a 2-disc Special Edition with extensive extra features, which are worthwhile if you speak Spanish and rather less interesting if you don’t since there are no subtitles on any of them. The Spanish Special Edition can be bought from DVDGo or Fnac. The film is also available on a good quality Region 1 DVD as Mondays in the Sun, so that should also be considered.

The picture on the Spanish Manga Films DVD is very good – strong colours, a natural level of grain accentuated through the telephoto lens photography, and perfect brightness and contrast. The odd dust spot appears here and there, but the only irritating problem is a shimmer causing moiré effects on clothes and backgrounds. It is a fairly infrequent problem though.

The DTS audio track is strong, front and centre based, with almost no activity on the rear speakers. For a strongly dialogue based film, this is entirely appropriate and more than adequate. A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also available.

Extras - Disc 1
Disc 1 contains a full-length commentary by Fernando León and Javier Bardem in Spanish with no subtitles and you'd need to speak Spanish well to follow these two guys because they have a lot to say. León leads the commentary which is mostly explanatory - not descriptive of the action as much as revealing the purpose and intent of each scene. One notable aspect that comes out of the commentary is the amount of research that went into making the situations and the characters as real as possible. The documentary footage at the start of the film shot in Gijón is real, but León also shot documentary interview footage with the protestors which is not used in Los Lunes al Sol, but informs the attitudes and the dialogue of the characters in the film. The filmmakers also spoke to psychologists and experts about alcoholism to understand its causes and effects. It's a good commentary, but not essential - I think the film speaks for itself.

Trailers are included for Fernando León’s Familia (1:00) and Montxo Armendariz’s Silencio Roto (1:09).

Extras - Disc 2
Three trailers are included – the Original Spanish Trailer (1:45), a US Trailer (1:12) that loses the dialogue and focuses on the film’s numerous international awards, and an Italian Trailer (1:44), which is identical to the Spanish trailer, but dubbed.

In a short 2 and a half minute clip Fernando León talks about pulling together information and ideas for the film over a number of years and discusses the title – as well as representing unemployment, Monday being the start of the working week, for the director also represents a new beginning and the hope of starting anew. In Javier Bardem’s interview, running to about 8 minutes, he talks about his character, Santa and his psychological and physical preparation – gaining weight to give the character the strong physical presence the role demanded. Bardem describes the role as the best he has ever been offered and that it was important for the character and the film to be true to the people of Gijón, where the film was made. (In the commentary track he also mentions that some of the scenes were so well-written that he was nervous about being able to do them justice). The interviews are badly edited together, divided into very short chapters with no option to play all – the material is however interesting. There are no subtitles on the interviews.

Making Of (26:03)
A nicely put-together Making Of, in Spanish with no subtitles, features interviews with the director and many of the cast, some behind-the-scenes footage and storyboard-to-screen comparisons. The actors generally feel that it was easy to work with characters whose dialogue and situations were so well-written and well-presented through the direction.

Prizes (26:39)
The film was generously awarded during the 2003 Goya’s, picking up Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor among five awards in the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars. Extensive footage of the awards ceremony is included here, along with information on the other international awards the film has gained. All three principal actors received awards - Bardem for Best Actor, Tosar for Best Supporting Actor and Egido for Best Newcomer. The other notable aspect of the 2003 Goyas was the very strong anti-war statements from everyone (Tosar's comment that there is no need to go to Iraq for oil, since there is plenty off the Galician coast is twice as pertinent). A good extra, but unfortunately no subtitles.

Inevitably the quality on these isn't great, but it includes screentests for Nieve de Medina (2:01), Luis Tosar (3:21), José Ángel Egido (6:02) and Aida Folch (2:24).

Deleted Scenes
Four extended/deleted scenes are included here, prefaced by comments from the director to explain their omission - in most cases due to inappropriate changes of mood between scenes or simply just to tighten up the film. The scenes included here are - The Employment Agency (4:19), Santa and Nata in the bar (3:27), José in the bar (2:31) and Santa and Nata in the pensión (2:06). The first scene is a rough work-print version, the others are non-anamorphic film quality scenes.

Very detailed storyboards, apparently strictly adhered to, are shown for two sequences in the film - Lino's experiences with hair dye (2:22) and Santa bringing Amador home (3:34).

Graphic Material
A selection of Posters (7), Location photographs (2:33), Newspaper Headlines (14), photographs of Javier Bardem's Transformaton (5) and an excellent anamorphic Photo Gallery (1:20) are included in this section.

The remainder of the extra features are text-based - Cast Listings, Crew Listings and Selected Filmographies for Bardem, Tosar, Ergido, de Medina, Climent and León.

Fernando León is a talented young director and writer – he wrote the script for the gothic horror film Fausto 5.0 and his earlier films, Barrio and Familia have also been highly acclaimed. Although the subject matter of Mondays in the Sun seems gloomy and depressing, it is actually one of the laugh-out-loud funniest films I have seen in a long time, is worthy of the awards it has received and deserves a much wider audience.

9 out of 10
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