A Spanish film for Filipino workers to watch

A Spanish film for Filipino workers to watch
Javier Bardem as the exploitative factory owner Julio Blanco in "El Buen Patron (The Good Boss)" —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Young Critics Circle member Nonoy Lauzon was right: The 2021 Spanish film “El Buen Patron” (The Good Boss), directed by Fernando Leon de Aranoa, should be shown and viewed by Filipino employees in all workplaces.

Lauzon said as much in Filipino after seeing the movie at the opening last Oct. 5 of the 21st Pelicula Spanish Film Festival at the Red Carpet Cinema in Shangri-La Plaza. He added that the Department of Labor and Employment itself should spearhead the showing of the film.

“El Buen Patron” is about capitalism and the perils that embody the system. It is the story of Julio Blanco (played by Javier Bardem), the charismatic yet manipulative and exploitative owner of a factory of industrial scales in one of Spain’s suburbs.

‘Best company’ award

Blanco aspires to win the excellence award for the model business company of the year, so he moves to ensure that everything in his realm is geared for that goal. He thinks nothing of using his gardener’s bum teenage son as a pawn, a thug pitted against Jose (played by Oscar de la Fuente), a retrenched worker. An eyesore and a pain in the capitalist’s ass, Jose holds a one-man strike in front of the factory.

The opening scene alone, in which roguish youths start a melee and assault Arab immigrants, foreshadows a sinister, cruel, and violent tragedy befalling the defiant subordinates. 

Jose’s persistent protest ends with the gardener’s son and his mobsters ganging up on and beating the retrenched worker black and blue. Although on the brink of physical collapse, Jose manages to retaliate: He grabs a weapon and stabs the gardener’s son dead.

As satirical as it is farcical, “El Buen Patron” exposes the pettiness and shallowness, if not the sham (to borrow Lauzon’s interpretation), of presenting loyalty awards to employees who serve only the interests of the company that any top executive or manager represents.

Charming yet scheming

In keeping with the film’s ironic title, the boss is indeed a charming and constructive advisor; but he is also a predator, targeting vulnerable (or even willing) victims with his scheming ways. He seduces an ambitious woman intern who readily falls for his wit and whims in bed, and then drops her like a hot potato in the face of a compromising situation that jeopardizes his machismo and high position. Or he demotes his childhood friend and right-hand man in favor of an employee who is deemed more productive (even if non-Spanish), which mars the preservation of his status quo.

Bardem is a quintessential actor playing the oppressive yet captivating boss with artistic depth and commitment. The supporting cast is no less excellent—Julio Blanco’s self-assured better half, his trusted buddy and the latter’s independent-minded wife, the pragmatic on-the-job trainee, the solitary protester, the immigrant worker, and the major and minor members of the rank and file. 

What is striking in De Aranoa’s screen argument, after all his propositions on the unfairness of labor practices, is his stand in the final scene of the narrative: Julio Blanco hangs on the wall an appreciation certificate of employment loyalty, with his gardener beside him; gesturing with his hands, the “good” boss shows the uneven posture of the frame, signifying the perennial weighing scale of imbalance.

“El Buen Patron” won the major citations, including for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor, at the 2022 Goya Awards (Spain’s equivalent of the American Academy Awards). It premiered at the prestigious 2021 San Sebastian International Film Festival and was one of Spain’s shortlisted films at the International Feature Film category of the 94th Oscars.

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