Lionsgate // 2002 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 21st, 2008
This film is not based on a real story. It is based on thousands.
"What day is today?"
Times are kind of hard for Santa (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men) and his friends. They are all unemployed shipyard workers, and it hasn't been easy to find work. The guys go to job interviews together. They hang out together. They drink together. They do everything together, offering each other companionship and support during this challenging time. Though they all have a sense of humor and are able to keep their spirits relatively high under the circumstances, they can't continue living like this for very long. Santa and his friends continue to cling to the hope that someday, something good will happen. Is there any hope on the horizon for these men?
Mondays in the Sun is an exceptionally pleasant film about exceptionally unpleasant circumstances. As a drama about the ailments of the Spanish working class, it is only moderately effective. As a tale about a bunch of guys hanging out and being friends, it works exceptionally well. It may sound just a bit demeaning, but at best, this film is a low-key Spanish version of King of the Hill. It's a group of tight-knit buddies standing around, drinking, telling the occasional story, and talking about whatever happens to be on their mind. Is the film a comedy? Oh, I don't know. If it is, it's not the sort of comedy that is going to make you laugh very much. If it is a drama, it's not the sort of drama that is going to affect you emotionally or intellectually.
The nicest compliment I can pay the film is that "it made me smile." The dialogue here is pleasant and just a little witty, and I enjoyed getting the opportunity to hang out with these characters. Santa is easily the most interesting of the group, as he is well-written and well-played. Santa is portrayed by Javier Bardem as a reasonably intelligent man who is able to comprehend the futility of his situation. This makes him unique, because the other men are not quite as perceptive. They hope against hope that things will change, even when all the evidence suggests that it will not. Santa is also the funniest of the men, and is given a wonderfully droll sense of humor by the deadpan Bardem.
The film was released on DVD back in 2003, and is now being re-released by The Meridian Collection, a relatively new label from Lionsgate dedicated to presenting "significant works of world cinema, in elite quality editions of the highest technical standards that celebrate their creative impact." It sounds nice, right? However, I am disappointed to report that The Meridian Collection is a long way from being worthy of comparison with The Criterion Collection. This is not a bad DVD release, but I am not entirely certain that it is worthy of an upgrade if you all ready own the original release.
Let's begin with the transfer, which is a long way from pristine. There are scratches and bits of dirt and grime all over this print. The movie was released back in 2002, but it looks at least a decade older, maybe two. If Meridian is so dedicated to providing "elite quality editions of the highest technical standards" of these films, why weren't some of these problems addressed? I sincerely doubt that Criterion would sign off on a transfer like this. I know it's tough for any DVD label to live up to Criterion's standard, but that is the comparison that Meridian is inviting with its mission statement. Blacks are not exceptionally deep, either. There are also occasions when the subtitles behave a bit oddly, too. There are times when the subtitles will appear several seconds before someone actually speaks. This needs to be corrected. Audio is fine, with the sickly-sweet Lucio Godoy score coming through with exceptional clarity. On that note, I'm surprised that a film that does such a nice job of avoiding cheap sentiment pushes so hard with the music.
In the supplements department, the only new item of note is a commentary with Javier Bardem and director Fernando Leon de Aranda. It's a pleasant track that is worth checking out. While a bit on the quiet side at times, it offers a nice blend of behind-the-scenes trivia and examination of the story and the characters. In addition, there's a rather insubstantial making-of featurette with terribly video quality, some deleted scenes, and some storyboard-to-scene comparisons. Again, this isn't an exceptionally poor batch of special features, but it doesn't really offer viewers the sort of incentive to upgrade that supplements on a Criterion release usually do.
Mondays in the Sun is almost entirely comprised of the sort of low-key scenes of character interaction that serve as mere filler in most dramas. Most films could use more scenes like that, but this film could use a little more dramatic meat. The scenes that move the plot forward or attempt to address a serious situation are few and far between. When these scenes do arrive, they lack punch. Consider the moment in which one character goes to visit his wife at a meat factory. They fight for a few minutes. Yes, we get that her situation is tough, and that his situation is tough, but does the movie give us anything more than that? No, not really. When making a film that addresses social problems, it is the responsibility of the filmmakers to make us care about those problems. That is not the case with this film.
This Oscar-nominated film is worth a look for the engaging dialogue and the effective Bardem performance. However, I can't say that Mondays in the Sun is particularly rewatchable or even very memorable, so a rental is probably advisable for most viewers. This latest DVD release is the one to pick up if you're intent on purchasing the film, but by no means worth an upgrade for those who own the original release.
This DVD is guilty of failing to improve substantially upon the previous release, but the film itself is free to go. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Storyboard-to-Scene Comparisons