Director: Fernando León de Aranoa
Talent: Javier Bardem
Release Date: July 15
Juilo Blanco (Bardem) is the owner of a factory making industrial scales in a provincial Spanish town. Blanco is dead set on winning an award for business excellence by any means necessary. Charismatic and wheedling, he meddles in the personal lives of his employees so that nothing goes awry when the committee comes to appraise the factory. A former employee made redundant, disgruntled to the brink of despair, is camping out front barking his protestations through a megaphone and refuses to leave. Another complicating issue is Blanco’s sexual appetite for nubile interns. Will Blanco succeed in ingratiating himself with the committee, or will his myriad problems thwart his efforts?
This film has many strengths. Bardem is brilliant here, clearly relishing this role as he addresses his staff with oily condescension. The Good Boss is also well-plotted, the various machinations of the characters coming together in satisfying ways at the end. Mostly, this is a pleasingly nasty comedy, on point on how those in power strive for virtuous optics over the actual wellbeing of those in their charge.
And yet, there was a nagging feeling this film kept eluding greatness. I wanted it to commit more to the darkness of its vision and see more of the devastation wrought by Blanco’s avarice. At times the film falls between two stools: comedy and drama. Certain scenes – namely involving a bumbling security guard – seem too broadly comic, lessening the dramatic impact darker scenes have. This kind of workplace lunacy is real and commonplace. Better to play it straight and let the inherent black comedy speak for itself. The ironically jaunty soundtrack also keeps things firmly in the realm of frivolity, overdetermining the mood. Conversely, a harder edge would have actually made the film more pleasurable. Horror and comedy are good bedfellows and should bolster rather than stifle one another (a recipe perfected by Succession).
So it comes down to an issue of tone rather that content. This film is intelligent and very well-constructed. A perception exists that Spanish bosses are not good at keeping the personal and the professional separate, and this film, in which conflicts of interest abound, is devilishly insightful on that front. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a very good film that could have been a complete knockout with some tweaks.
Words: Rory Kiberd