American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Mondays in the Sun" chronicles the lives of men who were shipbuilders in Spain until the yards closed, and now measure out their lives in drinking and despair. One still goes to apply for jobs, but is too old, and considers hair dye to make himself look younger. Others buy lottery tickets, hoping for good luck, and benefit from the free cheese samples at the supermarket. They all feel unmanned by the inability to support themselves and their families, and free time is like a swamp they have to wade through every day.
The film stars Javier Bardem, whose range as an actor is demonstrated here by the way he seems to have aged, put on weight, lost his athletic poise and become a bar-stool jockey. He plays Santa, the unelected leader of a small group of friends who meet most days in a bar opened by Rico (Joaquin Climent), when he was laid off at the shipyards. Among the regulars: Amador (Celso Bugallo), who has developed into a pitiful alcoholic and won't go home even when he has clearly had too much to drink; Reina (Enrique Villen), who found a job as a security guard and whose employment is like a silent rebuke to them all; and Jose (Luis Tosar), whose wife Ana (Nieve de Medina) has a job at the cannery and drowns herself in deodorants to get rid of the fishy smell.
In one of the movie's most sharply focused scenes, Jose and Ana go to the bank to apply for a loan, and the questions of the loan officer, on top of Jose's bitterness that his wife works and he does not, leads to an angry outburst. But outburst or no, there was no way they were going to get the loan. All of these characters are at a dead end.
There are moments of sad insight, as when they take Amador home to his apartment and find it an emptied-out mess; the wife he keeps talking about has abandoned him. And when Santa meets a friendly woman named Angela (Laura Dominguez), there's no way he feels able to pursue a relationship, because he has nothing to offer her, not even self-esteem. Better to stay in Rico's bar and drink, and go through a pretend flirtation with Rico's teenage daughter.
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