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The Good Boss (El Buen Patrón)

Director – Fernando León de Aranoa – 2021 – Spain – Cert. 15 – 116m

***1/2

With a prestigious business competition coming up, a factory boss must keep the judges from stumbling upon his personal and corporate dirty laundry – out in cinemas on Curzon Home Cinema on Friday, July 15th

Any day now, the local committee will descend upon the Blanco Scales factory to see if the business should receive the prize money for an upcoming good business award. No-one knows exactly when they are likely to turn up, though, least of all Blanco (Javier Bardem) himself. So, clearly everything needs to be in good order to impress the judges when they turn up. Which should be fine, because Blanco prides himself in looking out for his work force and the company is one big, benevolent, happy family.

Except that it isn’t, because although Blanco sees it that way, the reality is that he only cares for his workforce insofar as doing so will enhance their productivity. He fires dissatisfied employee Jose (Óscar de la Fuente) who promptly sets up camp outside the factory gates – on land Blanco doesn’t own so he can’t evict him – and proceeds to chant anti-Blanco slogans on a daily basis. This will clearly be a disaster if he’s there when the competition committee turn up, so Blanco must find a way to get rid of him.

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Meanwhile, his fiercely loyal security guard Román (Fernando Albizu), who mans the entrance gate a stone’s throw away from Jose’s camp and is, basically, a decent human being, is concerned for Jose even while attempting to implement his boss’ wishes.

Blanco has other problems too, including normally reliable employee Miralles (Manolo Solo) whose work is off because he’s concerned about his wife’s extra-marital affairs, the latest of which, it turns out, is with Khaled (Tarik Rmili), the North African employee who, while good at his job, is in part there to bolster the company’s diversity quota and make it look good to the authorities.

Meanwhile, the ageing Fortuna (Celso Bugallo) is concerned about his delinquent son Salva (Martín Páez), who Blanco attempts to set up in the boutique owned by Blanco’s wife Adela (Sonia Almarcha) to set him on the straight and narrow.

Then, there’s his latest extra-marital affair with Liliana (Almudena Amor) an attractive and gullible young intern who turns out to be less gullible than she appears and is in fact as manipulative as he is. She’s actually the daughter of a family friend he hasn’t seen for years, but he doesn’t cotton on until he’s initiated a night of insane passion with her and is caught in her machinations.

All these factors threaten to blow up in his face at the worst possible time for his business. Can Blanco weather the storm, present a convincing facade to the judges and win the prize money he covets? Bardem has a lot of fun with the role, which feels like perfect casting, and is enjoyable to watch. There are a stack of great performances in the supporting cast too. The development of the various potential crisis situations will hold your attention throughout.

Yet perhaps writer director de Aranoa is pushing his left-leaning thesis a little too hard here. The factory makes scales, which can be seen to symbolise Justice, and at the gates sit a display pair which need fixing because they never quite work properly. Above the gate, the wrought iron sign has clear echoes of the one above the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp. The film plays to the idea that all bosses in industry are out to exploit their workforce in the worst possible way, a popular idea on the political left which, while sometimes true, isn’t a rule of thumb in every industrial situation. But, hey, it makes for an engrossing film.

The Good Boss is out in cinemas on Curzon Home Cinema in the UK on Friday, July 15th.

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