Here's a timely little slice of desolation: In director Fernando Le'n de Aranda's quasi-Marxist tragedy, a group of Spanish shipyard workers succumb to inertia after their business is phased out, to the tune of 200 lost jobs. At any other moment, the U.S. release of such a bleak picture might be in doubt, subject to fears that its central dilemma wouldn't travel well. But here and now, a lack of perspective is hardly the problem. (It's more a case of "too much fucking perspective," as Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins once hissed.)
Yep, being unemployed can swallow a man alive, a point "Mondays" hammers home in ways alternately rousing and stultifying. Middle-aged, underskilled and thus ill-equipped to zigzag into the new, computer-based economy, the movie's handful of displaced souls lead lives of diminishing returns. Their major activities consist of drinking, debating politics and scamming free goods and entertainment; the hardier souls among them make desperate but futile attempts to land pickup jobs and/or bank loans.
The de facto heart of the bunch is Santa (Javier Bardem), an impish layabout who comports himself with a kind of hedonistic valor. He's lost his job, but he still has his dignity -- that is, if dignity can be defined as getting it on with a woman whose name you can't remember while her baby waits in a stroller outside your door. Director de Aranda, who co-wrote the script with Ignacio del Moral, finds wicked consolation in the idea that Santa's down-market charisma can still take him places even some men of genuine means can't reach.
Bardem is a good fit for the character, sporting a new, temporary look defined by close-cropped hair, a beard and some extra poundage that befits Santa's sedentary lifestyle. (At least I hope the look is temporary; otherwise, Bardem may soon find himself in demand to star in a biography of "Survivor" has-been Richard Hatch.) A bad-body glint dances in the corners of Santa's eyes, but he's also the most principled of the bunch, prone to impassioned diatribes against the uncaring economic system that has left them all high and dry. In the movie's best scene, he deconstructs a child's storybook, denouncing its lessons as inapplicable to the real world.
Such sparks of comedy are essential in a movie like "Mondays," which yearns to communicate the hopeless ennui of the forgotten. This it does to a fault: Between the listless pace, the lulling score and the activity-deficient characters, you may find yourself fending off sleep at various junctures, or at least casting furtive glances at your watch. It's weird to think that such reactions might constitute "successful" filmmaking, but de Aranda scores a backhanded point by reminding us that we should all consider ourselves fortunate if we have somewhere better to go.