Javier Bardem seems like Spain’s equivalent of Hugh Jackman. Despite being an international superstar, he still finds time to appear in productions from his homeland. So after his recent appearance in the sci-fi epic Dune, it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that his next appearance is in a small Spanish film set in a factory. The Good Boss is a very clever look at human behaviour through the lens of a nondescript workplace. Greed, rage, injustice, duplicity and even love are aired in this fascinating – and very funny – film from director Fernando León de Aranoa.
The “boss” of the title is Blanco (Bardem) – we’re never given his first name. He runs a business manufacturing scales. The company is in the running for a regional award – important because it can influence how subsidies are distributed. As the film opens, two events are happening simultaneously – Blanco is giving a speech to workers about how the company is like a family; and his manager Rubio (Rafa Casteljon) is firing long-time employee Jose (Óscar de la Fuente). So from the outset, it’s clear Blanco isn’t the caring father-figure he tries to portray to the world. The firing doesn’t really go to plan for Blanco however, as the desperate Jose sets up a surprisingly effective one-man picket line outside the factory.
Meanwhile, problems are emerging inside the plant also. Blanco’s childhood friend Miralles (Manolo Solo) is making expensive mistakes. So the boss tries to talk to him. Miralles confesses things are not great at home and his wife Aurora (Mara Gull) is asking him for “air”. Sensing trouble, Blanco begins meddling in their lives – subtly at first, then more blatantly. To complicate things further, attractive new intern Liliana (Almudela Amor) catches Blanco’s eye. Ever the opportunist, he hatches a plan to seduce her. But in all these intricate dealings, it’s often not clear exactly who is manipulating who.
Director de Aranoa also wrote screenplay. While some of his touches might be a little heavy (like the several clunky links between scales and justice), he nonetheless crafted the devilishly clever plot that juggles a lot of moving parts. The multiple plots cleverly interweave, leading to some brilliant storytelling. At its heart, this is a dark story, but it’s also very funny. It’s almost like Macbeth wandered onto the set of The Office – and the whole shebang got transplanted to suburban Madrid. De Aranoa delivers some quite hilarious moments – including a very awkward dinner party. I also liked his enigmatic ending, though some may find it a little too obtuse.
Pau Esteve Birba does a workman-like job on the cinematography, perhaps tapping into the film’s prosaic surrounds. But there’s compensation in Zeltia Montes’ finely constructed score.
Bardem leads the cast with a fantastic performance as Blanco. But while that’s probably to be expected, the strength of the supporting cast is incredible. Óscar de la Fuente as Jose and Manolo Solo as Miralles are both excellent as men on the edge. Almudela Amor is captivating as savvy Liliana. Even apparently peripheral cast members, like Tarik Rmili as smart worker Khaled, shine in key moments.
The Good Boss is, well, good – unexpectedly good; entertainingly good. Although as a non-English language film, it may get limited exposure, this is a workplace comedy that you should add to your CV.
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television