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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Javier Bardem specialises in playing characters who are not what they seem. He’s good at portraying men who have an edge of violence that they try to hide, although there are many shades to his masculinity, including an irresistible charm. The Good Boss is a comedy, but no laughing matter. It’s the blackest of satires – the kind in which a smiling face hides a monstrous heart. Julio Blanco (Bardem) runs a factory producing precision scales. He is a caring boss; your problems are my problems, you are all my children, he tells his workers. Although, sometimes he has to let one go. On the eve of a regional business competition that he wants to win, a man who has just been retrenched (Oscar de la Fuente) sets up camp opposite the factory gate, hurling abuse with a loudhailer. A young intern (Almudena Amor) distracts Julio with her beauty, as a senior executive (Manolo Solo) goes off the rails in a paroxysm of marital jealousy. Julio handles it all with his usual confidence and aplomb, until he doesn’t.
There is so much allegory at work here that it takes some time for the director, Fernando Leon de Aranoa, to get his targets lined up. The first half is all establishing scenes – setting up things that will pay off later. The second half is worth the wait, largely because of Bardem’s slow and deliciously ironic slide towards disintegration. The powerful tycoon is forced to the edge of an abyss, and because this is Spain, that abyss is partly historical. It’s the unstated theme – this man is the bastard spawn of Franco, or at least his generation.
His insincerity, his moral void, his corrupt self-confidence and his brutality are the family inheritance – and that may be one reason for the film’s popularity at home. A foreign audience may see an entertaining depiction of a man who has been corrupted by too much power and privilege. I suspect Spanish audiences see a vision of the devil inside the family. El diablo familiar.