Is Javier Bardem more 'No Country for Old Men' than 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'?

The Spanish Oscar winner and social activist found himself in hot water after his family's restaurant took advantage of Spanish layoff laws that he personally campaigned against.

Gabriel Pecot/AP
Spanish actor Javier Bardem shows his support last October for Spanish theater workers as he holds a flier against austerity measures in public theaters of Madrid. The flier reads 'Stop the firings. Here everyone is needed, except the management.' Mr. Bardem came under fire this week after his closing family restaurant took advantage of layoff-related austerity measures that he personally campaigned against.

While Spanish Oscar winner Javier Bardem brilliantly plays bad guys in film, in real life he is viewed as a social hero, publicly fighting for human rights and against government policies that hurt the beleaguered Spanish public.

But this week in what initially appeared to be a betrayal of everything he has stood for, the actor was accused of hypocrisy and forced to publicly backtrack amid controversy over the closure of his family's restaurant and the layoff of its employees.

Mr. Bardem and his wife Penélope Cruz are the popular equivalent in Spain to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the US. And similar to the social-minded Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie, Bardem champions human rights causes, strongly speaks out against government policies and rising unemployment, and is a regular in anti-austerity street protests.

Like most Spaniards, Bardem has not gone unaffected by the economic crisis gripping the country. La Bardemcilla, a Madrid restaurant which Bardem co-owns with his two other siblings, Carlos and Mónica, and his mother Pilar, went out of business after 15 years, like hundreds more in Spain amid a grueling crisis that is seriously cutting into consumer spending.

But the restaurant, which was wholly managed by Mónica, told its 11 employees earlier this month that their severance would be paid according to the recently passed labor law reforms that allow employers to cut the cost of dismissals, the very law that Javier Bardem has specifically condemned publicly.

Admirers of his political activism were shocked.  Along with his family, he has publicly berated tax hikes and other policies hurting Spain’s working classes and partaken in numerous street marches. His mother Pilar, also a famous actress, is also well known for her progressive political views.

The dismissals also coincided with recent government complaints that politically active stars – not just the Bardems – were only socially conscious on the street, not in their private, glamorous life, heightening the public debate.

Pictures of Bardem during a street protest holding a white paper that reads “Stop [the layoffs]. Nobody is expendable here” were retweeted. Talk shows debated for days about the Bardems, especially after the news surfaced that Javier hired a private jet to fly his mother to an exclusive, private hospital during an emergency.

All four Bardems issued a statement Tuesday blaming Mónica for not informing the other three before processing the dismissals under the government’s cheap layoff law. “We are not willing under any circumstances to [fire our employees using] a labor reform that we have publicly opposed,” the statement said.

The family issued “clear instructions to proceed immediately” to withdraw the original dismissals paperwork, and instead used the regular procedure that requires higher severance payments, which “in fact are higher than those set by the law, in recognition of the long labor relations between La Bardemcilla and its employees.”

The Bardems said they had no choice but to close La Bardemcilla because it had been generating a loss for two years. But the explanations were insufficient for many. One tweet asked: “Will [Bardem] now protest against himself?”

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