THE GOOD BOSS (El buen patrón)

Producers: Fernando León de Aranoa, Jaume Roures, and Javier Méndez   Director: Fernando León de Aranoa   Screenplay: Fernando León de Aranoa   Cast: Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almudena Amor, Óscar de la Fuente, Sonia Almarcha, Tarik Rmili, Fernando Albizu, Rafa Castejón, Celso Bugallo, Francesc Orella, Martín Páez, Yael Belicha, Mara Guil, Nao Albet, María de Nati, Dalit Streett and Nicolás Ruiz   Distributor: Cohen Media

Grade: B+

A sly satire of modern business that gets progressively nastier as it goes, Fernando León de Aranoa’s film is anchored by an impeccable performance by Javier Bardem as the owner of a firm manufacturing precision measuring machines who proves willing to tip the scales to his advantage when circumstances demand it.  “The Good Boss” is essentially a dramedy of frustration in which the title character claims to be acting like the father of his workforce family, but when the family proves dysfunctional, shows how cruel and manipulative he actually is.

Bardem, onscreen virtually non-stop, is Julio Blanco, whose name would seem to suggest purity; but though he’s first seen addressing his factory’s staff paternalistically, he has an ulterior motive: the firm is in the running for a prestigious award, and he lusts to win it, the last of the great accolades in the field, and he’s encouraging his staff to be on their best behavior for the anticipated visit by an examination committee.  His speech is mostly warmly received, but interrupted by the angry shouts of José (Óscar de la Fuente), who’s come with his two young children in tow to complain of his recent firing and demand his job back.   Blanco refuses to see him, curtly telling his browbeaten aide Rubio (Rafa Castejón) and secretary Inés (Yael Belicha) to get rid of the intruder.

That proves a mistake, as José stakes out a place on a vacant piece of public land across from the factory’s entrance and denounces Blanco with placards and a bullhorn.  Blanco will try to use his influence with local authorities, and eventually bribery and more direct methods, to evict him before the committee arrives, becoming increasingly surly with the loyal but rather dim gatekeeper Román (Fernando Albizu) as the embarrassment persists.

At the same time, Blanco helps two other employees.  When Salva (Martín Páez), the son of morose mechanic Fortuna (Celso Bugallo), who also acts as Juan’s handyman, gets into trouble for a street brawl with some Arab teens, Blanco uses his sway with the police to get the boy released, and even gives him a part-time job at the dress shop his wife Adela (Sonia Almarcha) runs, though she complains that his loitering outside with his tough friends is bad for business.  And when his childhood friend, plant manager Miralles (Manolo Solo), begins neglecting his duties because he’s consumed with jealousy over the infidelity of his wife Aurora (Mara Guil), he tries to get the two back together, even though, as it turns out, Miralles is no innocent himself.

Nor is Blanco.  He has eyes for the invariably beautiful young interns hired at the factory.  One of the new ones, tall, lovely Liliana (Almudena Amor) attracts his interest, and her glances in his direction indicate that it’s not unwelcome.  Before long they’re involved, though he gets an unpleasant shock when he eventually learns that they’d met before.

Meanwhile ambitious Khaled (Tarik Rmili) is angling to take over Miralles’ job, and more.

Julio’s efforts to solve the cascading series of problems will reveal what sort of person he really is, ready to use, and sacrifice, people to achieve his ultimate goal—winning that coveted award—but also willing to compromise when caught in a tight spot.  (A final revelation about his long friendship with Miralles suggests that’s nothing new.)  He even fudges the misbehaving scales at the factory entrance to make everything seem right when it really isn’t—a final sardonic bit of evidence about how business operates in modern Spain, in León de Aranoa’s view.

All the cast are excellent—Albizu especially amusing as the security man with an unlikely interest in proper poetic form—but this is Bardem’s film, and he captures Blanco’s growing exasperation and anger in a turn of remarkable restraint and control.  And in the film’s big finale, in which, resplendent in a new silver suit, he expresses both a sense of triumph over his viciously-won successes and resignation over the battles he’s had to concede in recognition of society’s attitudes about diversity and harassment, he exults in being a giant in a very small pond. 

Here the costumes designed by Fernando Garcia play an especially important part, and so does Pau Esteve Birba’s suddenly luminous cinematography, which elsewhere is plainer, as is César Macarrón’s production design. Zeltia Montes’ consistently supportive score blooms here as well.

As directed by León de Aranoa and edited by Vanessa Marimbert, “The Good Boss” moves at a stately pace, and there are points at which one might prefer a sharper, more subtle satirical blade.  But Bardem’s masterly performance pretty much sweeps aside such cavils.