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America is rediscovering the movies of the early seventies. Two filmmakers this year told me the these films were influential. David Gordon Green credits Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven and Lisa Cholodenko mentions The Graduate and Five Easy Pieces.

Also on Movie Habit, Pablo Kjolseth reviewed Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, a documentary based on a popular book about the early seventies in American cinema, examining the ideals of inexpensive shooting, social issues, and personal perspective.

Having these ideals fresh in mind, Spain’s Mondays in the Sun made a lot more sense and seemed a lot less slow that it might have otherwise.

Sittin’ by the Dock of the Bay

Mondays in the sun recalls American films of the early 70s
Mondays in the sun recalls American films of the early 70s

Mondays in the Sun takes a look at a group of friends, laid-off dockworkers in Vigo, Spain, most of whom still aren’t working, even three years after the layoffs. Their favorite hangout is a bar called The Shipyard, founded by one of their more entrepreneurial friends.

People apply for jobs. Others don’t. They sit on the docks in the sun and talk about Australia. Someone is ordered to pay for a streetlight he broke during the strike. Another says his wife smells like a mermaid; she works in a tuna cannery. There is a death, led up to by a long bout of depression and decay. But not much happens.

A film whose central action is “not much” is necessarily slow. But Mondays in the Sun knows how to counterbalance. Instead of pacing, the movie offers terrific performances and a wonderful sense of small-time tragedy worthy of Jack Lemmon’s masterful performance in Glengarry Glenn Ross.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Jose (Luis Tosar) tries hard to get a job. He spends lots of time at the employment office, and he’ll interview for anything. He dyes his hair to look younger and gets computer lessons from his children to make himself more marketable. But a former dockworker in his fifties just isn’t an attractive employee, not to anyone.

Santa (Javier Bardem) is the boldest of the group. He’s not afraid to steal a ride on the ferry or a bag of chips at the grocery store. He thinks the world owes him something, and it’s hard to disagree. Beneath the amiable boozing exterior, Santa is proud and defiant. He broke a streetlight during the strike three years ago and is still fighting and appealing the ticket. It’s not a matter of money. Rather, he is fighting the humiliation of being punished over something as petty as a breaking streetlight, during a time when his entire livelihood was being destroyed.

Time Runs Backwards

Although Mondays in the Sun suffers from its slow pace, one of the best things about the movie is its patient, quiet observation of the world. Little details make great big metaphors for the characters and their economically bleak and hopeless world. One shot lingers on a clock reflected in a mirror, which shows time moving backwards. The friends can’t afford tickets to the football match, but they can watch from the roof of the stadium. The trouble is they can’t see the goal because it’s blocked by the box seats.

One touching scene shows the retarded man who hangs around the shipyard talking with gruff and tough Santa. To vent their anger, they smash bottles on the useless, rusting ships, but Santa starts joking that they are christening the ship, changing the tone of the afternoon from frustrated to hopeful, as a sort of emotional gift to the impressionable retarded man.

Too Close to Home

Mondays in the Sun was on the verge of being released in the early months of 2003. Perhaps the economic depression in the movie hit too close to home for American audiences. Maybe now that the economy shows signs of turning, it’s safe to release this movie.

In the intervening months, I haven’t forgotten this movie. On the contrary, it has aged and matured in my mind. I still think it is too slow, but I recognize there is more to it than its pace.

Though not much action happens, a lot goes on, both visually and emotionally. These are enough to make up for the pace, in my mind, and probably for the filmmakers who look to the early seventies for inspiration. Get ready for more Mondays, because they’re coming back in style.