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Review: El buen patron (2021)

El buen patron (2021)

Directed by: Fernando Leon de Aranoa | 120 minutes | comedy | Actors: Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almudena Amor, Óscar de la Fuente, Sonia Almarcha, Fernando Albizu, Tarik Rmili, Rafa Castejón, Celso Bugallo, Francesc Orella, Martín Páez, Yaël Belicha, Mara Guil, Nao Albet, María de Nati, Dalit Streett Tejeda, Nicolas Ruiz, Daniel Chamorro

In about a week an important commission will come to inspect director Blanco’s scale factory, there is even an illustrious price attached to the assessment. But every time when boss Blanco drives onto the company premises with Jaguar, he sees that the scales at the entrance are completely out of balance. With the committee almost on the doorstep, this is a thorn in the side of Blanco (Javier Bardem). He points this out to the guard, the rhyme-sensitive lobbes Román (Fernando Albizu) and also demands that he keep under his thumb the recently fired accountant Jose (Óscar de la Fuente), who has started a one-man protest at the gates of the company. Once on the work floor, Blanco is slightly upset when he sees the new intern Liliana (Almudena Amor) again. But first, he has to get his right-hand man Miralles (Manolo Solo), the daily operations manager, to work because Miralles’ marital crisis is disrupting the entire production chain. If things are going well at home, then things are going well at work, according to Blanco. A good boss therefore treats employees as if it were his own blood.

A strength of ‘Le buen patrón’ is the classical narrative structure and the measured visual language, which gives the whole a pleasant and above all clear narrative tempo. Each chapter represents one of the days of the week (as if Blanco created the world in seven days) when a new problem presents itself to the director and he tries to solve another at the same time. In addition, the clear structure gives all the space to the actors, especially Javier Bardem, to shine. Blanco is the star of his own universe, he puts everything in the balance to keep the company going. He is skilled, charismatic and manipulative. As if he has been given a blank check, he hands out the sheets. The director often talks air, but also shows altruistic traits when dealing with employees. What is good for his employees is good for the company and is good for him. Blanco is the Pygmalion for VVD celebrities.

Bardem Blanco breathes life in an impressive way, outlawed as in a playground. A joy to watch. Like a good boss, his words sound strong and empty at the same time, he straightens out what is crooked. Blanco is a late twentieth-century grandnephew of Daniel Plainview from ‘There will be Blood’ (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007). He is obsessed with controlling others, displaying power, and in the long run it’s about status and legacy. Sometimes he has to help or teach other beings for that. But the tame sheep are not allowed to come really close. In addition, Blanco is an empty sheet on which others can project their fantasy of power: he is an example for many, but also someone you want to resist. The gray director is just one step ahead of the vultures in his position. However for how long? When is the big boss going to explode under the enormous pressure (from another committee visit)?

Is ‘El buen patrón’ a full-blooded satire? No. Is it a drama par excellence? No, neither. This classic tragic comedy hovers neatly in between. Occasionally sharp but also friendly, as in: people (employer and employee) are nothing strange. The employee also benefits, sometimes precisely because of a submissive position. Yet it is particularly striking that Blanco is excessively privileged and from this position rules over the company and divides his ‘family’ into armed supporters and disarmed opponents. And without mercy, every employee can change penny. After all, Blanco’s will decides on the bigger picture on the factory site. For example, ‘El buen patrón’ turns out to be a comical joust about contemporary morals, a Shakespearean farce, rather than a critical look at the immorality of capitalist relationships in a medium-sized company, a society in miniature. Moreover, the successful running gags lull the audience to a certain extent with regard to the deeply disturbed balance of power. Imagine the story from Liliana’s point of view or from Fortuna’s and his youngest son Salva. The devil is in the details!

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