In its home country, Mondays in the Sun beat out Pedro Almodóvar’s ”Talk to Her” to take top honors at this year’s Goya Awards – the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars. It’s easy to understand the homeland thinking. Cowriter-director Fernando León de Aranoa’s compassionate, soot-covered drama about a gaggle of unemployed shipyard workers is as grounded in unsexy European labor misery as Almodóvar’s erotic international favorite wafts above it: It feels local and immediate rather than exportable and charming. It’s defiantly Spanish – a consciousness-raising Iberian cousin to Laurent Cantet’s powerful French factory drama ”Human Resources,” Baltasar Kormákur’s bleakly funny fish-factory fable ”The Sea,” and, in its more artificially maneuvered moments, to Stephen Frears’ British underclass manifesto ”Dirty Pretty Things.”
”Mondays” also pulses with the star power of the extraordinary Javier Bardem – from ”The Dancer Upstairs,” ”Before Night Falls,” and, indeed, the ranks of Almodóvar regulars – beefed up and bearded as Santa, a laid-off, furious nobody. (He’s never too grim, though, to flirt with women, or too defeated for bitter jokes.) Most of the nonaction takes place at a bar run by a fellow former worker, where Santa and a fistful of slumping compatriots gather for drinks they can’t afford after their daily battles against masculine disintegration. Lino (José Ángel Egido), for one, interviews for jobs he’ll never get at his age; José (Luis Tosar) resents – and relies on – his wife’s nighttime assembly-line job. The performances are relaxed. The open-ended, vignette-like structure of the filmmaking sometimes imitates the movement of weary, life-worn men nursing liquor. The message of despair at how work (or lack of it) can bend the man is clear.