Writer and Director: Fernando León de Aranoa
For a manager balancing the needs of the business with those of your staff is never easy, and for Javier Bardem’s factory head it proves an almost fatally difficult task in Fernando León de Aranoa’s The Good Boss showing at the London Film Festival. This nicely pitched tale of corporate politics and human fallibility has just enough morality to make any manager worry about helping their employees too much.
With another prestigious award for excellent on the cards and an impending visit from a State committee, scales manufacturer Basculas Blanco needs everything and everyone in line to guarantee success. But in the week before the assessment, his shop floor manager has a marital breakdown, a fired employee has set-up a noisy picket at the gate and a worker asks for help to get an errant son out of trouble. With too much to balance, Blanco finds himself making some regrettable choices.
Leon de Aranoa’s occupational comedy has a streak of black humour a mile wide as the perfect, kindly boss is pushed to extremes to protect the reputation of the firm he’s worked so hard to build. The increasingly harassed Blanco is finely drawn and driven by these particular set of circumstances into making a series of costly mistakes that undermine his image, but, presented with any of these individual problems on another week and he would have responded differently.
That doesn’t entirely let Blanco off the hook though and there are hints throughout that a corruption of sorts was always waiting to be unleashed as he uses his network of contacts to try to massage his issues away rather than deal with them head on. His success and the maintenance of an overly comfortable lifestyle do start to set him apart from the workers he claims to care about and, as he becomes embroiled in their lives, he oversteps the line with little self-awareness.
Structured around the days of the week, there’s a Two Days, One Night feel as Blanco must complete a series of continually exploding tasks while his own lapses in judgement with a new intern add some extra jeopardy as suddenly business and personal life are on the line. Leon de Aranoa largely handles this well although the character of Liliana is really a trophy for a couple of unlikely sex scenes and beyond Blanco there is limited development for anyone else.
Javier Bardem grasps the opportunity to take the lead in a movie that relies almost entirely on his charisma, and there’s plenty of it to be had, navigating the line between genuine care for the people around him and the Machiavellian demands of business. The actor’s expressiveness is so valuable in presenting the nuance of the film’s closing moments where no screenwriting was required.
A touch overlong at two hours, what could have been a crisp 100-minutes becomes a little weighed down by what seem like some uncharacteristic decision-making from Blanco, while the inevitable rebalancing of morality that continually references scales and justice feel heavy handed. Nonetheless, The Good Boss has some lessons for us all in balancing the personal and the professional in the workplace.
The Good Boss is screening at the London Film Festival.