In “The Good Boss,” Javier Bardem plays Blanco, owner of a factory that manufactures scales. Blanco lectures his employees about “balance” and “equity” and even more things evocative of scales. He espouses balance in all things, and yet he has so much more than most others. More than anything, Blanco wants the company to win a prize awarded by a committee that will be visiting the plant soon.
In the meantime, a young Arab is beaten in a park by thugs, including Salva (Martin Paez), the youngest son of one of Blanco’s oldest employees, an unfortunate man named Fortuna (Celso Bugalo), who also serves as Blanco’s pool man. Blanco’s wife Adela (Sonia Almarcha) runs her own small clothing shop. Blanco fires desperate midlevel employee Jose (a terrific Oscar de la Fuente), who begs to be taken back. Blanco refuses.
Along with his two young children, Jose sets up an encampment across the street from the entrance to the company. He makes posters and banners that become increasingly insulting to Blanco. Jose gets a megaphone. It’s public property, and he has a right to be there, according to the police. At the same time, Miralles (Manolo Solo) is falling apart and falling down on the job because he suspects his wife Aurora (Mara Guil), who repeatedly tells him she needs “air” and spends much less time at home. Meanwhile, a lithe, new intern named Liliana (Almudena Amor) catches Blanco’s eye.
It is not hard for Oscar-winner Bardem to seem like the boss. But Blanco is also a kind of invisible man, hiding his true fears and desires behind the mask of the patron. For all of his advice about being self-sufficient, he inherited the company from his father, and his morals are about as malleable and instantly self-serving as anyone else’s.
When Liliana and a girlfriend run into Blanco and Miralles in a sleazy bar, Blanco instructs Miralles to go with the girlfriend, knowing that Miralles is in pain over his wife, because Blanco wants to be alone with Liliana in her company-provided apartment. So much for balance and equity. This is the male boss taking advantage of a female subordinate at its most shameless. A twist is coming.
Written and directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa, “The Good Boss” is a skewering workplace satire that the Europeans do best. When Blanco expresses concern about how Jose’s protest looks bad for the company’s image and will destroy its chances of winning the award, he is being a total management hypocrite.
Solo, Amor, de la Fuente, Bugallo and Fernando Albizu as the surprisingly poetic front gate guard Roman help make “The Good Boss” an amusing expose of class hierarchy in modern-day Spain. As the working wife who gives the inquisitive Blanco a good slap in the face, Guil is particularly good. The great Bardem is more a part of the fine ensemble than lead here.
A jaunty score by Zeltia Montes adds another comic layer to the action. What will the mayor think when he learns that Blanco has given Roman the security guard the Teatro Real ballet tickets the mayor gave to him? Would he even suspect that the bull-sized Roman would appreciate Prokofiev a lot more than the boss?
'THE GOOD BOSS'
(In Spanish with English subtitles)
No MPAA rating (contains sexually suggestive scenes and profanity.)
Running time: 1:56
How to watch: In theaters