Der perfekte Chef / The Good Boss

Director: Fernando León de Aranoa (Spain). Year of Release: 2021

Blanco is a “good boss”, someone who is loved by all his workers – this is, at least, how he likes to see himself. We open with Blanco making one of those nauseating speeches to the factory in frnt of a wall carrying the slogan “Effort, Balance, Loyalty”. Blanco tells his workers that they are all family, and that he is just like them (even if none of them inherited the factory from their father). He assures them oleaginously that they can come to him any time with their problems.

One of the workers, Fortuna, takes Blanco at his word and asks him to put a word in for his son, who has just been arrested. He’s been involved in a fight with some refugees (which we hear, but don’t see, in a pitch black opening scene). The arrest was unfair, because “no-one told the police that the Arabs started it”. A discreet phone call to a friendly politician, and Fortuna’s son is released from the police station and offered a job in Blanco’s wife’s fashion store.

The company, Blancos (what else), makes scales, and is on a short list of three for a regional trophy. The inspectors are due any day now, but trouble is brewing in paradise. First there’s the camp set up by Jose outside the company entrance. Jose shouts through a megaphone to passers by that he was unfairly sacked by Blanco. He is accompanied in the camp by his children until they are taken into care. Blanco tries to get Jose moved, but he is on public ground so is free to do what he wants.

Then there is Miralles, the Head of Production, and an old friend of Blanco. Miralles has made a number of bad decisions which have disrupted production because either he or his wife is playing away. Ever the “good boss,” Blanco approaches Miralles’ wife appealing her to delay any decisions that might send her husband into freefall, at least until after the inspectors have visited and recommended Blancos for an award.

Finally, there’s the intern. Blanco has already shown himself to have a penchant for slim, tall blondes, especially if the power relations allow him to exert some control. He doggedly follows Liliana, and soon is seducing her at a night club, but she has neglected to mention that she is the daughter of an old family friend, which Blanco should have known if he were truly paying attention to anyone but himself.

There are few films that wouldn’t be improved by being interrupted by a strike, but this one, more than others, is in need of some collective action. All serious plot developments are driven by individual intrigues – at first by Blanco’s Machiavellian machinations, but increasingly by the people who wantto succeed him. But rather than confronting him, they also try to change the world by pulling puppet strings. It is most frustrating and not how the world really works.

The film tries to have it both ways. It shows us that Blanco is far from perfect, but it is a little bit in thrall to him. We are shown his inappropriate sexist behaviour towards interns, but also see hem reacting to being dumped by telling him they love him. Other workers were sacked alongside Jose, but they are invisible and he is left to protest alone, with no-one to support him apart from Roman, the security guard, advising him on the poetry of his slogans.

There is an ongoing metaphor around a statue of scales at the factory entrance. The scales are slightly imbalanced, at first because a bird is sitting on one side, later because they contain some bird shit. It is a metaphor that is apt, but somewhat heavy handed. References in the film keep return to checks and balances. They are only halfway effective as it is so clear that the scales are weighted for one class of people that the repetition starts to become boring and obvious.

Speaking of clunky metaphors, at one stage Blanco rings someone up and makes them an offer that they can’t refuse. The final third of the film runs out like the Godfather, as Blanco finds himself an alibi and tells the security guard off to the opera, just before something truly evil happens. Blanco’s hands may be clean, but the blame lies entirely with him. And the people who cross him sleep with the fishes, as does anyone who stands in the crossfire.

Ultimately, the satire is inadequate because it aims too low. Of course the factory boss is self serving and vain. Of course he is a hypocrite. Why would we expect him to be otherwise? Towards the end of a woman and a migrant worker do improve their situation, which I guess is a start. But this is girl boss socialism – we might acknowledge that the system is rotten, but the best e can hope for is an equal opportunities policy which also allows minorities to crawl their way to the top.

Der perfekte Chef does not contain any surprizes – although there is some character development and lessons are learned, there’s nothing we couldn’t have anticipated from the very start. But it is on the right side, and is prepared to call out injustice, which is at least something. It’s definitely worth a watch, but – like Blanco – it could have been a lot more ambitious.

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