It seems safe to say that Mondays in the Sun is probably least familiar to American viewers. Javier Bardem plays Santa, one of a group of friends and former co-workers who are struggling to get by after the closure of the shipyard where they worked. Although the movie is a decade old, the financial hardships might strike a chord for Americans in 2012 as the nation weathers what is hopefully the end of an economic crisis. Santa and his buddies pick up the most menial work possible (Santa takes over babysitting jobs for a friend's teenage daughter so she can sneak out and have a night life) when they're not struggling through interviews (fifty-year-old Jose, played by José Ángel Egido, fidgets uncomfortably in waiting rooms filled with twenty and thirty-somethings with sharper computer skills and no gray in their hair). It's a compelling picture that lacks a bit of a rudder, grinding its gears a little near the end.
In Biutiful, Bardem plays Uxbal, a father of two who manages to provide for his kids Ana and Mateo (Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estrella) by brokering work deals for immigrants living in Spain and taking a cut of the profits. Occasionally, home life will be pleasant enough to incorporate the children's bipolar mother, Marambra (Maricel Álvarez), but they often fight over her drinking and her treatment of the children. When Uxbal learns he is dying of cancer, he struggles to make things right in his family before he goes, but problems with friends and friends' wives, Marambra's instability, and a shattering tragedy involving a group of Chinese workers Uxbal represents threaten to destroy everything. It's an emotional roundhouse of a movie, with the depth and breadth of Alejandro González Iñárritu's tragic yet deeply hopeful story sneaking up on the viewer.
Finally, in the most famous film in the set, and the one that really introduced US viewers to Bardem, the actor plays Anton Chigurh, a nearly silent hitman assigned to find and retrieve a suitcase filled with over two million dollars. His target turns out to be Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a cowboy who happens to pass by the right place at the right moment, while tired sherriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) quietly but carefully tracks both the money and the murderer. Although Llewelyn makes his way from the open country to the big city, Chigurh is never more than a few steps behind, leaving a gruesome trail of bodies in his wake. The thriller, faithfully adapted from the book by Cormac McCarthy and punctuated by brutal violence, drawn out suspense sequences, and knockout performances from everyone involved, took home four Academy Awards, among them Best Picture, Best Directing (Joel and Ethan Coen), and a Best Supporting Actor statue for Bardem himself (Biutiful also garnered him a nomination, the first for a completely Spanish-language performance).
What's interesting about No Country, when put up against the other films in the set, is how Bardem, a naturally soulful actor, takes all of that humanity and represses it. In the infamous coin-toss sequences, despite his wide smile, there's no humanity in Chigurh. He is a man who looks down on those with emotions, knowing that's the weakness they have and he doesn't. Biutiful is the flipside of that, a movie in which his raw, unfiltered humanity and fragility is the heart of the film. Where the Coen brothers' Texas is stark and clean, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Spain is messy and poetic, rolling around in despair and heartbreak and soaking up each dizzying, painful moment. By comparison, Mondays in the Sun is simpler, dealing with the frustration and injustice of an endless uphill struggle, but Bardem's performance is no less potent, with the actor delivering a crucial speech that ties the whole film together. In each film, Bardem offers a measured but fully different realization of his character -- the trio of films might not leap off the shelf at the viewer, but they provide a surprisingly good cross-section of the actor's diverse career.
The Video, Audio, and Extras
Biutiful: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, English / Spanish subtitles, two featurettes, interviews, and a trailer.
No Country For Old Men: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Dolby Digital 5.1, English / Spanish / French subtitles, three featurettes.
Mondays in the Sun: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, English / Spanish subtitles, commentary by director Fernando Leon de Aranoa and Bardem, deleted scenes, a featurette, and storyboard comparisons.