Spanish comedy is generally very reminiscent of Egypt’s contemporary comedy; bad imitations of foreign films and cheap jokes. Maybe it’s a Mediterranean thing, we don’t know. The direct consequence of this is, when the case is broken and a genuinely funny, witty and clever comedy emerges, it’s a delightful surprise. It certainly is the case here: The Good Boss (Orignal: El Buen Patrón) received 20 nominations for the Goya Awards, Spain’s main national annual film awards, winning a major 6 of them, including Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. It eventually got chosen, surprisingly over Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers, as the Spanish entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards.
A simple premise that’s executed to its full potential at the hands of its writer and director, Fernando León de Aranoa, the plot follows Blanco (Javier Bardem), the patriarchal owner of an industrial scales manufacturing business going out and beyond to ensure his business wins the prestigious award of excellence, whose committee-visit is awaited in the near future.
The following descent into chaos – with the endless attempts of Bardem’s Blanco to untangle it, doesn’t particularly show us something unexpected about the characters. Not at all. You get the entirety of the charismatic, magnetic facade of the owner and the corporate devil underneath in the opening scene; as a prelude to his announcement, Blanco gives a reminiscent speech reminding the large number of employees in his factory of how they’re all one big happy family. He added that he and his wife don’t have any kids, and he considers every employee his child. That performance takes place as an employee is simultaneously getting cut off, and he reacts to it by bringing in his children to the workplace and having him throw a tantrum. The tantrum is ignored and proceeds to get worse and worse until it leads to the tragicomedy climax of the film.
You get everything you need in that opening; the audience isn’t deceived by Blanco’s charisma, they discover his selfish, greedy intentions in a plot twist. This isn’t an age where capitalism is a sheep in a wolf’s clothes, or where anyone actually believes that a corporation is a family, so the audience doesn’t need to get deceived, and then get blown out of it.
The corporate satire indeed isn’t subtle, but it also has no need to be. The interesting thing that the film does amusingly well while taking you on this long, slightly unnecessarily stretched journey, is getting you to root for Blanco’s plan to work while hiding any sympathetic quality of his. You don’t root for him because you understand the depth of his soul and understand his motives; greed and selfishness, and he’s only as profound as he appears to be. You root for him purely because he’s convincing in his determinism; he’s willing to go to any length, to carry out any deed, to hurt anyone, and he does it so entertainingly that you can’t help but want to see him reach the end line.
*Now screening at Zawya cinema*