With silver hair making him look older than his 53 years, Oscar winning actor Javier Bardem gives a nuanced performance that accumulates in power in “The Good Boss,” screening Sept. 9-13 at the Jane Pickens Theater.
His Julio Blanco, head of a company that’s long manufactured industrial scales in the provinces of Spain, is so self-centered that he doesn’t even realize that his constant references to his employees as “family” are hollow and cringingly clueless.
The film follows Blanco over a 10-day period as he eagerly anticipates yet another business award to add to his trophy shelf. He’s so concerned with image and appearance that anything that casts Blanco Scales in a negative light sends him into a panic. It’s his own hubris and shallowness that makes everything worse, from little annoyances like birds soiling a symbolic scale at the company gates to meddling in a trusted worker’s marriage troubles.
Bardem has reunited with writer/ director Fernando León de Aranoa after working with the filmmaker on 2002’s “Mondays in the Sun,” and the 2017 biographical crime drama, “Loving Pablo.” This time, they’ve spun a satire about capitalism and the imbalance of power.
Despite Bardem’s layered, enjoyable performance and many allusions to scales, including those of justice being decidedly tipped in favor of the boss over the workers, the film doesn’t go far enough in showing the evils of exploitation or workplace power abuse.
Blanco spouts platitudes about family and community, but he’s fired a longtime worker, Jose (Óscar de la Fuente), who decides to get even by staging a one man protest with bullhorn and signs right outside the company entrance. Jose’s spectacle sends the wrong image during Blanco’s quest for accolades. After efforts to appease Jose fail, Blanco resorts to violence. He uses the troubled son of his kind handyman, Fortuna (Celso Bugallo), and, predictably, things go very wrong.
Meanwhile, Blanco insinuates himself into the personal woes of his friend and longtime employee,
Miralles (Manolo Solo), even overstepping by lecturing Miralles’s wife in her place of work and getting a deserved comeuppance.
Blanco crosses another line when after a night of carousing, he has sex with Liliana (Almudena Amor), his new marketing intern. When Blanco’s wife casually mentions that Liliana’s parents are old friends who are coming to dinner, an excruciatingly embarrassing table scene unfolds. Bardem plays the droll comedy and discomfort masterfully as he squirms, exposing Blanco’s penchant for exploitation and stupidity.
Penelope Cruz, who is Bardem’s wife, also delivers a masterful performance in another Spanish language satire, “Official Competition,” available on demand.
Argentine directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn have created an irresistible movie about moviemaking with plenty of winks, jabs and inside jokes about the world of pretentious filmmaking and egocentric artists. Best of all, it’s got Cruz as lauded artsy director Lola Cuevas, who’s been charged to helm the vanity project of billionaire businessman Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez) after he pays a small fortune for the rights to an award-winning book that he hasn’t read.
Lola casts Felix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), a somewhat clueless, self-centered, international movie star, and Ivan Torres (Oscar Martínez), a well-regarded but equally full-of-himself stage actor, to play warring brothers in the movie. Lola insists on a ridiculously exacting rehearsal period that brings out the rivalry, competitiveness and insecurities of the two stars.
Cruz, with her cascading curls, hipster eyeglasses and eccentric outfits, has a ball with the highminded, driven Lola as she pushes her actors to increasingly absurd degrees. It’s a real treat to watch Cruz and Banderas, who co-starred in but didn’t share screen time in the memorable “Pain and Glory” in 2019, banter and bicker and engage in physical comedy. They’re pros spoofing pros and enjoying every minute of it.