Dir: Fernando Leon de Aranoa. Sp-Fr-It. 2002. 113mins.

A bittersweet comedy about men facing unemployment led by a barnstorming central performance from Javier Bardem, Mondays In The Sun (Los Lunes Al Sol) looks like another decisive critical and popular hit for one of Spain's most hotly tipped new young talents. Fernando Leon de Aranoa won the Goya for Best New Director in 1998 for his first film, Familia, while his second, Barrio (1998), a sharp, lively look at kids kicking their heels in a working class district of Madrid during a long hot summer, took the Silver Shell in San Sebastian four years ago, as well as a raft of other awards. Prospects in Spain, are also excellent for his splendid third feature.

Internationally, the theme may be a little downbeat and local to make this Leon's breakthrough movie, but the certainty of awards kudos and Bardem's rising profile should tempt distributors to pitch this at discerning audiences. They will recognise the tone and many of the themes of Ken Loach's work, in particular the loss of dignity and the slow, inexorable erosion of group solidarity under impossible pressures.

Leon displays a similar political incisiveness and sense of compassion, while the film's numerous scenes in the bar where the men gather regularly to drown their sorrows have the same quickfire crackle of bleakly funny repartee that distinguished Riff Raff and The Navigators. Perhaps the young director could be taxed with not bringing anything significantly new to the table, but Loach at his peak is no mean standard to be measured by. The Spaniard draws out superb performances from his cast and displays an expert command of comic timing, and these qualities make the film consistently enjoyable and entertaining amid its profound mood of sadness.

The story follows the ebbing fortunes of seven men, just a few of the 200 dock workers dismissed when their shipyard was closed down to make way for a complex of luxury apartments. Bardem, equipped with a paunch and receding hairline, is the group's proud alpha male, his womanising bravado and bullish aggressiveness barely concealing his despair.

His fierce, brooding presence commands, but does not eclipse, the other characters around him. They include Lino (Egido), a middle-aged man who dyes his hair to appear more marketable but whose anxiety at interviews is betrayed by his sweating hands; Jose (Tosar), who suffers from the humiliation of depending financially on his wife and is fast turning bitter; Amador, the oldest, who is quietly killing himself with drink; and Sergei, a dreamy Russian immigrant who claims to have been an astronaut in the Soviet space programme.

In a series of tragi-comic vignettes, the film traces the constant setbacks and petty triumphs of their struggle to hold their lives together and make ends meet. But the overall narrative arc is less important in a tale whose frustrations are virtually a foregone conclusion than the revealing interplay of character and the fine emotional texture of individual scenes.

Shot in winter in the northern Spanish coastal cities of Vigo and Ponteverda, Mondays In The Sun has a warm earthy look dominated by a green and brown palette. Very crisp editing and well-judged music keep the energy level high.

Prod co: MediaPro, Quo Vadis, Eyescreen, Television de Galicia
Sp dist:
Warner Sogefilms
Int'l sales:
Elias Querejeta, Jaume Roures
de Aranoa, Ignacio del Moral
Alfredo Mayo
Prod des:
Julio Esteban
Nacho Ruiz Capillas
Lucio Godoy
Main cast:
Javier Bardem, Luis Tosar, Jose Angel Egido, Nieve de Medina