I don’t comment every time on the subtitle factor in foreign films, but it always affects my degree of enjoyment of a film. It’s not a huge deal—and obviously the fact that a movie is in another language doesn’t make it objectively better or worse—but it does have a small adverse impact on how I experience a film.
Case in point here. Mondays in the Sun, independent of the subtitle factor, is a film I liked a lot and would rate quite high. But with the subtitle factor, I would say only that I enjoyed it a little more than the average film I’ve written about so far. That means I still liked it, but when I think about it honestly, it did feel a bit long, and it did feel like a bit more work to watch it than would a movie in English of similar quality. So if I contemplate, say, watching it again (perhaps with someone who’s never seen it, which is actually one of my favorite ways to experience movies), the idea doesn’t appeal to me as much as I feel like it should.
Anyway, Mondays in the Sun is about male blue collar workers in Spain whose lives are disrupted if not destroyed by the specific act of their shipbuilding factory closing, and by the more general phenomenon of the local and global capitalist economy increasingly making people like them superfluous.
It’s quite narrow in scope. You don’t see the plant closing; the movie is all about the (intermediate) aftermath. You don’t see politicians, economists, the media, the employer class (except in the sense that you occasionally see their intermediaries that do things like make hiring decisions at mass job interviews, and approve or disapprove bank loans); it is all about and from the perspective of a handful of workers.
I appreciated the tone of the movie. On the one hand, there’s an obvious sadness if not cause for outrage in the general topic itself, and that’s never covered up or counteracted with phony feel-good stuff. You really get a chance to enter their world, and to feel the frustration, the shame, the rage, etc. That’s some very heavy material.
But at the same time, it just doesn’t have the hopeless, oppressive feeling that a movie with this subject matter could easily have, like the feeling of, say, Ghosts. And again, not because there’s something phony to offset the depressing stuff, like an artificially happy ending. It just does a good job of conveying genuinely positive things about life, either that happen in spite of the ugliness of their class plight, or even at times arguably because of it.
There’s a decent amount of humor in the movie, in the way the men interact. I got several good laughs out of it. You also see moments of growth and moments of genuine human connection. People gain a new appreciation for the few friends and family they can count on, they gain some understanding of the political ramifications of their plight and how crucial worker solidarity would be against the capitalist class’s strategy of divide and conquer, they learn humility, they are intellectually and morally challenged, and on and on.
To be clear, never does that outweigh the bad stuff. If it did, the movie would be unrealistically optimistic. On the other hand, if it were absent, the movie would be unrealistically pessimistic. Instead the balance strikes me as just right—the oppression clearly is a net negative and wears people down, but there is still opportunity for love, laughter, displays of moral character, and all the rest.
And I like the fact that the characters are distinct and complex individuals. They all have different responses and coping mechanisms, yet not in so simplistic a sense that each could be readily pigeonholed as this or that type.
Some held out longer against their factory employer way back when, and some caved more readily. Some trudge off to humiliating job interviews that they know have only a tiny chance of landing them a job, and some have given up. Some will scrounge for money by engaging in petty theft or mooching loans they have little hope of ever repaying, and some will not. Some are angry about their lot, and some are resigned to it. Some see their situation in political terms, and some do not. Some of their spouses desert them and some do not. And so on.
None of them, to me, are uncomplicatedly heroic. The one who gets the most screen time and is presumably the main character in a loose sense certainly has his admirable qualities, but he also has flaws and just certain aspects of his personality that rubbed me the wrong way. So I mostly liked him and sided with him, but also saw plenty to find fault with.
But that’s as it should be. Real people, and especially real people who have gone through or are going through traumatic experiences, are not angels. They behave at times in stupid and hurtful ways. But as the wife of one discovers through her tears late in the movie, you can love imperfect people.
Even when they conflict, there’s a basic camaraderie amongst the people in this movie, a mutual appreciation. And I felt something akin to that for them, that even though there are grounds to criticize each of them, I empathized with them, I liked them to some degree, I rooted for them. I gained a little better understanding and appreciation for the sense in which we are all ultimately connected, the For Whom the Bell Tolls point made so touchingly in the metaphor of the Siamese twins offered up by one of the drunken characters.
A movie that affects me like that deserves a thumbs up.