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2001: men without jobs, in the port city of Vigo. Six men worked in a shipyard, now shuttered. They pass the time at La Naval, a bar opened by one of them after the yard closed. They face their futures in makeshift ways: Rico has his bar and a sharp 15-year-old daughter, Reina has become a watchman and a moralizer, Lino fills out job applications, Amador drinks heavily and talks of his wife's return; José is married to Ana, who works at a cannery and tires of being the breadwinner amidst José's emasculated moodiness; Santa, the group's conscience and troublemaker, occasionally fantasizes about Australia. In truth, all are joined like Siamese twins, adrift. Written by
February, 2001 says the calendar inside the wharf-side bar; Rico splashes out the drinks and his precocious 15 year-old daughter Nata (Aïda Folch) looks on, absorbing the intensity of fiery language: her father's customers are unemployed boat-yard workers, drifters over forty, approaching fifty.
Fernando León de Aranoa, basing himself on the real lay-offs which happened in the boatyards of Gijón (Asturias) ten years earlier, and indeed using footage from newsreports, reconstructed his own story and transferred the proceedings to Vigo (Galicia) in the extreme north-west of Spain. The resulting `Los Lunes al Sol' is a social document portraiting a few men `on the dole' and their sombre outlook, however not lacking in sparkling humour and witty dialogues.
The year 2002 will be remembered as the year of `Hable con Ella' (qv) and `Los Lunes al Sol', a year in which mostly men take first place on the screen, moving the ladies to one side. Heroically, considering Spanish masculine mentality, there is no macho-building exercise in force in either of these two excellent films. The two films have competed head-on at the San Sebastián film festival, as well as in the Spanish Film Academy to be chosen to represent Spain for the Oscars, and so on, and have come out more or less level. If my personal preference is Almodóvar's superb dramatical piece, this in no way deflects from `Lunes al Sol', a magnificent sociological drama which even manages to creep in to certain foibles and other typicalisations without any cheapening effect which would have been detrimental to the telling of the story.
Javier Bardem is superb and magnificently backed up by Luis Tosar and José Angel Egido, and there are no superlatives for Celso Bugallo's lesser but extremely important part as Amador. Joaquín Climent as the bar-owner Rico is absolutely correct, and the Russian Serge Riaboukine is spot on. And the ladies .? Well, definitely in secondary roles, but Nieve de Medina as the suffering wife Ana working in the sea-food canning plant gives a resounding interpretation, and Laura Domínguez as Angela is fine. But all eyes are fascinated by fifteen year old Aïda Folch as the precocious daughter, who observes all and learns from it, and applies her own methods to reach her own goals. She gets a baby-sitting job, hires `Santa' to do the job for her, so that he pockets 3,000 pesetas (about $20), she keeps 2.000 pesetas as commissions, and hops off to seek out her boyfriend. In her other film, `El Embrujo de Shanghai' (qv), alongside Fernando Tielve, directed by Fernando Trueba, we see she has that natural coquettish way which is going to take her very very far in the world of cinematography. I only hope she stays in Spain to do so, she keeps her beautiful little head well and truly planted on her shoulders, and does not suddenly disappear over the other side of the Atlantic, as so often happens to our prodigies.
You come away from this film feeling that you have barely ever seen a team pull so hard together to make the result work: the film has a significant message to transmit and it had to do so through skillfully worked characteriology driven by dialogues that shift from the retrospective to the witty, through scenes that move from outright funny to downright sad. It works: the Spanish public identify with these `real' characters and natural language replete with non-dictionary spicey terms, as these men live out their empty, frustrating life of unemployment.
Excellent work here by the young director Fernando León de Aranoa: I shall be looking forward to seeing more of his films, and no doubt I shall acquire the video of `Los Lunes al Sol' as soon as it is in the shops.
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