SOMETIMES A NOTHING of a story can be the perfect shell for a mix of humour, philosophy and drama. And with the fabulous Javier Bardem at the helm of The Good Boss, you can anticipate narrative magnetism. It’s on this year’s European Film Festival; designed to be hybrid, it offers limited screenings and online access in Johannesburg and Cape Town, until Sunday 23 October, in Mbabane until 23 October and in Maseru, between 28 and 30 October.
Largely a tale of balance, this film is cut with style and produced with the kind of verve, that keeps you focused till the end credits, even though it’s a story that will not move the world and without Bardem as the central protagonist would fall flat. It’s a yarn of equilibrium: Blanco (Bardem) is the owner of a factory that makes scales. Big ones. Small ones. Ones to measure the weight of cattle. Others so sensitive, the droppings of a bird will unbalance them. He runs his company like the proverbial head of a family, publicly considering each employee his personal project.
Is this balanced? Well, ask the people who have come out the other side of Blanco’s avuncular embrace. Does he run his family and private life with the same kind of steel hand in a velvet glove? Not quite. It’s a tale about the hilarity of social protest conducted solo and the absurdity of making things look right for the Powers That Be and the possibility of a prize to hang the empty space on his wall where a spotlight shines. But it’s also about loss and memory, about repurposing thugs and about the arm of the law that can be rendered bendy, if needs be.
On paper, it’s relatively light weight. But put Bardem in the mix and you get something that you cannot look away from. His depiction of the broad-grinning, well turned out, blatant hypocrite is a cheeky gem that fills the screen and your heart with its understanding of the flawed nature of humanity at large. Everything else slips into a pecking order of lesser importance. It’s a lovely film about the complexities of steadfastness, the comeuppance of the fool and the miscreant, and the wayward skill of doing all the right things for the public eye, but doing everything else, too, to satisfy your own greedy ego.
- The Good Boss is directed by Fernando León de Aranoa and features a cast headed by Joaquín Abad, Rosa Alatrista, Nao Albet, Fernando Albizu, Sonia Almarcha, Almudena Amor, Savago Avuso, Javier Bardem, Nourdin Batan, Yaël Belicha, Celso Bugallo, Rafa Castejón, Mon Ceballos, Daniel Chamorro, Óscar de la Fuente, María de Nati, Gabriela Flores, Font García, Maty Gómez, Mouad Ghazouan, Mara Guil, Daniel Ibáñez, Pilar Matas, Francesc Orella, Martín Páez, Tarik Rmili, Eva Rubio, Nicolas Ruiz, Manolo Solo, Dalit Streett Tejeda, Candela Vergara and Óscar Zafra. Written by Fernando León de Aranoa, it is produced by Fernando León de Aranoa, Javier Méndez and Jaume Roures and features creative input by Zeltia Montes (music), Pau Esteve Birba (cinematography), Vanessa Marimbert (editing), Luis San Narciso (casting), César Macarrón (production design) and Fernando García (costumes). In Spanish with English subtitles, it is part of the 9th European Film Festival South Africa, screening in Johannesburg, Cape Town and online, until 23 October 2022; Mbabane at the Alliance Française, until 23 October and Maseru at the Alliance Française, from 28 to 30 October.