Santa (Javier Bardem) is in trouble. He’s in several sorts of trouble, actually, being jobless and depressed and not a little tired of seeing prostitutes for sex. But he’s also in specific trouble, with the law. During a strike at the shipyard where he used to work, he got carried away and smashed a streetlight. Now the company is demanding payment. 8,000 pesetas. “How can I pay it?” he asks his lawyer in exasperation. “I pay them for laying me off?”
As Fernando León de Aranoa’s Mondays in the Sun begins, Santa is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain his sense of humor and optimism, having been out of work long enough to believe he won’t find work that meets his skill or interest levels. He explains this to himself (and any friends he can get to listen) as part of a system: noxious capitalism is designed to use up and discard laborers, while producing profits for management. To pass time and look elsewhere, he dreams of traveling to Australia, where the waters are clean and the horizon is endless.
Until then, he spends his days in a small fishing town in Northern Spain, sort of looking for work—on Mondays, he and his friends enjoy the sun, a luxury they never had while working. During the rest of the week, Santa and José (Luis Tosar) accompany Lino (José Ángel Egido) on the ferry, as he heads to the city in search of a new job. Hoping that the rudimentary computer skills he’s learning from his son might help, Lino believes that if only he can get in the door for an interview, he’ll convince some young executive to hire him, based on his experience and wisdom. When even this possibility starts to look unlikely, he decides to dye his hair and wear his son’s “youthful” clothes—as he waits outside one office, he sweats profusely, so that the dye runs in telltale rivulets down his jowls.
José, for his part, focuses his self-doubt through his wife, Ana (Nieve De Medina), believing that she’s lost patience. She works at the tuna cannery—grueling, annoying, wearying work (she’s losing the feeling in her legs, and each night José massages them). When he spots her getting a ride home from one of her floor managers, José imagines the worst. Unable even to ask her about it, he burrows inside himself, exploding only at the most inopportune moment, when they’re in a banker’s office hoping to get a loan. Believing the banker has impugned his manhood, José ruins their chances, leaving Ana fuming on the sidewalk: “We have nothing,” she says, “and all because of work. No house, no kids, no money.” José can only storm off in an impotent display of his guilt and sorrow, returning to her bed at night, fearful and quiet and apologetic.
In the evenings, all three friends head to a bar owned by Rico (Joaquín Climent), who used his severance pay from the shipyard as a down payment. He offers the example of another route, which Santa and José both resent and admire, and the bar offers the added incentive of visits with Rico’s 15-year-old daughter Natalia (Aïda Folch). Self-aware and poised, she’s intrigued by the charismatic Santa, who flirts with her partly to remind himself that he still can flirt. He works out a deal with Nata to take her babysitting job, so she can go out with her boyfriend and he can take home the paltry night’s earnings.
Happy for the company, he brings his friends along (“We’re all looking after the child”), so they can spend an evening drinking fine liquor on a terrace, imagining how it would be to have a regular life, with new shoes in the closet and books on shelves. Still, frustration broils just beneath the surface. When Santa reads the child to sleep with the fable of the ant and the grasshopper, he can’t help himself; he starts railing against the ant’s capitulation to the system.
At Rico’s, they discuss politics, their shared past at the shipyard, and their anger, but rarely do they broach the subject of the future. Each night they watch the elderly Amador (Celso Bugallo), out of work for much longer than Santa and his cohorts, descend into drunken stupor. Though Amador declares that his wife is only gone temporarily, Santa discovers one evening—when he takes a passed out Amador back to his teeny apartment—that she’s never returning. The apartment is a wreck—the water’s turned off, clothing and dishes are scattered everywhere. Santa is startled by this image of his own possible future, entirely hopeless and distressing.
The guys find occasional respite from their dreary routines, in another routine. Another friend, Reina (Enrique Villén), has found part time work as a security guard at a local soccer field. Some evenings, he sneaks his friends inside a construction site overlooking the field, so they can watch what amounts to half the game: one end of the field is completely obscured from their vantage point, so when the crowd roars, the guys can only guess what’s just happened; still, they yell along with gusto, understanding the game well enough that they can guess at the action. It’s a charming and revealing moment, in which the men relish feeling like ordinary men, rowdy and coherent for fleeting moments.
Winner of five Goya Awards (Best Film, Director and three acting awards), Mondays in the Sun repeats its point, that unemployment depletes energy and identity, but in subtle, ever engaging ways. The film offers no overt trajectory, and no triumph over adversity, unless you count Santa’s repeat offense against the streetlight, which grants him a brief, understandable high, even if it accomplishes nothing else. Mondays in the Sun can only look forward to more of the same, the days running together. “What day is today?” they wonder at film’s end. And how can it matter?