In “The Good Boss”, Fernando León de Aranoa (Madrid, 1968) directs Javier Bardem for the third time, after “Mondays in the Sun” (2002) and “Loving Pablo” (2017), this time around in a fiercely biting comedy. A film produced by Reposado P.C. and THE MEDIAPRO STUDIO, in which Bardem plays Julio Blanco, the astute president of a weighing-scales factory who has to avoid problems and sharpen his wits, both in his company and in his most intimate surroundings. The film, which hits theaters today, has been chosen to represent Spain at this year’s Oscars. We spoke with the filmmaker about power relations, humor, work, empathy and Berlanga. And, after seeing the film, let someone who does not recognize himself, minimally, in Julio Blanco raise their hand. 

Is “The Good Boss” political cinema?

I tend to believe that almost all cinema is political; films talk about how we relate, about our intimate and social choices, and how they respond to our diverse backgrounds and upbringings as individuals. That said, “The Good Boss” is not a political film by choice. I’m not a fan of political, militant cinema, textbook, Manichaean. Life is a tapestry of greys, nuances, and personally, I pass on the label ‘political cinema’. What is true is that a large portion of today’s cinema will tell future generations what we were like.  

Early on in the film, does Bardem’s character mean well, are his intentions pure on a social level, but things just get out of hand? Is everything neatly in the bag at the outset and then the cracks start showing in the impeccable, supportive businessman image and it just snowballs from there?

Nearly every character in “The Good Boss”, be they bosses or workers, are looking out for themselves, and Javier’s character, Julio Blanco, is no exception. He’s a talented man, a rogue, but that doesn’t stop us from empathizing with him in the end, and we like him, even if we don’t approve of his actions. As a spectator, you take the same journey as Blanco, and you live his decisions directly. He’s someone very close to the viewer. This boss is not that far removed from us. How do we wield power when we have it? This is not a movie about good guys and bad guys.

Did you have to rethink or fine-tune the comedy element in “The Good Boss” at any point? More than anything, to ensure the reflection, the depth if you like, wouldn’t be eclipsed behind the laughter?

The humor was already flowing naturally during the script writing process. The humor comes with the character, and I had the tone in my head. I’d say I had to restrain myself more in previous films than in this one. The humor balances out the dramatic element in the story. 

After three feature films together, what’s it like working with Javier Bardem and how does he work? Do you have any tried and tested methods you use?

We work for the character as they appear in the script. We play around with exploring and imagining them in different situations. At the time we made “Mondays in the Sun” we still did not know each other, and Javier would come to my house with a stack of 120-minute cassette tapes, and we’d talk, and he’d record non-stop. Asking me all these questions. After three films together, we know each other pretty well and we’ve built up this immense trust. Javier Bardem always endeavors to go that extra mile. Playing safe just doesn’t sit well with him. He revels in taking risks.

I love the intern’s character, played by Almudena Amor. How she evolves, the nuances, and how she advances with the storyline. Are you afraid someone might interpret your vision as being sexist, clichéd, for the simple reason that she’s a woman?

There’s that risk, sure, and someone may misinterpret it in the manner you mention. But that was never my intention, of course. Liliana, the intern, resembles Blanco, and like him, she was also born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Blanco has an agenda … as does Liliana. One of my favorite layers to Almudena Amor is the mystery she transmits with those eyes. It’s utterly disturbing.

On the subject of female characters, I’m intrigued by the role played by Blanco’s wife, interpreted here by Sonia Almarcha. In fact, and unfortunately, hers is the most common role in society: the ‘away with the fairies’ type.

Well, I think she knows much more than she lets on, but it wouldn’t be in Blanco’s interest for him to find out. I love Sonia Almarcha; she does the strong female character brilliantly.

Are you judging these and the other characters, or are you merely showcasing them, leaving it up to the moviegoer to draw their own conclusions?

It’s not for me to judge them. The cinemagoer has to understand them, even the worst of them. We all have our reasons and explanations for acting the way we act.

From your first film, “Familia” (1996), to “The Good Boss”, is there a predominant theme throughout your filmography? The very idea of the family perhaps?

Yes, in “The Good Boss” we talk about the family a lot. Like in art when it comes to cinema I’m more interested in portraiture than landscapes. My greatest passion is to looking within the characters and painting a good portrait of them.

What are you chances like for getting to the next stage of the Oscars, or are you not even thinking about that? You already walked that part before with “Mondays in the sun”.

I don’t know, the Oscar ticket is so recent! Now, I’m more concerned about “The Good Boss” doing well at the box office. I have great faith in the film, the story it narrates and the way its narrated. And I’m delighted with the work of the actors: in addition to Javier, Almudena and Sonia, Manolo Solo, Celso Bugallo, Óscar de la Fuente, Fernando Albizu … On top of that, Javier’s a household name in American cinema, they love him. This, undoubtedly can influence the race for the Oscar.

Finish this sentence: We’ll come out the other side of the pandemic …

More exhausted. That’s the only objective answer. I think we’ll come out the same as before. The scoundrel will still be a scoundrel, and the good person will still be a good person.

We’ve talked a lot about comedy, but we shouldn’t forget that this is the Year of Berlanga. Do you think Berlanga is still relevant, or very relevant?

Berlanga! That’s the kind of cinema I was watching in college, when I was 18 or 19 years old. I love his work, just like I love Italian social comedy from the same period, the 50’s and 60’s. Both Berlanga’s and those Italian movies were teeming with humor and maliciousness, while  at the same time conveying tremendous tenderness. The stories of Berlanga and Rafael Azcona are very current, yes. Good cinema is the kind that never ages and transmits just as much to audiences today as it did 60 years ago. I’m not drawn to contemporary cinema, that political cinema we mentioned at the beginning. When I started studying, it became clear to me that films survive the filmmaker, and as such, it’s important that they conserve their message after we’re gone.

By the way, an amazing actor who features in Berlanga’s work also appears among your filmography: Juan Luis Galiardo, the star of “Familia”. If he’s still with us, I see Galiardo as the perfect Blanco.

(Laughing) So true. Juan Luis would’ve been an ideal Blanco! Besides, just like Blanco, he drives a jag.

Pere Vall
Pere Vall. Journalist covering the world of cultural and entertainment in general, specialized in cinema. Pere is a regular contributor to Time Out, Ara, RNE and Catalunya Ràdio, and was editor-in-chief of the magazine Fotogramas in Barcelona for more than 20 years. A fan of Fellini, of good, regular and bad horror movies, and of humor and comedy in general. As a child, he wanted to look like Alain Delon, and has ended with a certain resemblance to Chicho Ibáñez Serrador. Not that he’s complaining though.