One of the favorites this year to shine in the main competition at the San Sebastian Film Festival is Fernando Leon de Aranoir’s “The Good Boss”, starring Javier Bardem.
“The Good Boss” takes place in and around the Blancos Básculas factory, where everything has to be balanced at all times. There, the seemingly benevolent boss, Bardemes Blanco, a team of local businessmen visiting, is preparing for an upcoming visit alone for a prestigious award. Tensions are rising, however, when a recently expelled worker camps out of the factory gates, protesting Blanco and his business practices. Above all, Blanco’s behavior behind closed doors threatens to create more problems for the boss at worst.
Leon de Aranoa and Bardem sat together Diversity Discussions of the film in San Sebastian, its potential abroad and the return of international spurs make Spain an interesting place to work.
One of the joys of Spanish cinema coverage is that all the big stars come back. This week in San Sebastian we saw Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas with their film “Official Contest” and your former director Alejandro Amenbar brought his new series “La Fortuna”. What keeps you coming back?
Bardem: I think it’s different for everyone, but one of the joys is working in your mother tongue. When you film in your own language it sometimes gives you the opportunity to play more subtle roles, with the characters more subtle. Also, in my case, I live in Spain. My family and friends are in Spain. I’m still very immersed in Spanish life when it comes to reading, staying informed, street life experiences … So, in my case I think it’s normal that I relate to Spanish stories, often I don’t live much longer than other places.
And do you think you’re playing a different kind of role here than in the state, for example? In the states, your most famous roles are big, great characters in films like “Specter,” “Dunn” and “No Country for Old Men.” But with Blanco, you play a much more subdued, real-world character.
Bardem: I imagine the role is different, yes, although I just did “Being the Ricardos” with Aaron Sorkin where I did a very complex character. But it’s true that here, especially with Fernando, that I’ve had great access to very rich characters. Conversely though, I imagine sometimes in Spain I don’t get offers because maybe small productions probably don’t know how to contact me because they don’t want me or they think it would be too hard to work with me.
Fernando, you often produce films directed by you, as you did with Xavier with your last film “Loving Pablo”. When you are making a film like this with a big international star, do you have to be both a producer and a director?
Leon de Aranoa: It depends on the project. There are some parts of filmmaking that work more with the commercial side of the process and I participate in everything and engage with every part of the process. However, when I also give directions, I represent more. Typically, the process is done in phases. First, I’m worried about making movies. I don’t start thinking about marketing until it’s over. So, when I’m developing or shooting, it’s all about character and story, and I think it’s the best way to keep things organic and interesting. Since my first solo film, I’ve always tried to make films that would endure, that would surpass us. So, my films still need to be understood in 20, 30 or 50 years. If you think of a movie like Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”, that movie works the same way today, 60 years after it came out.
Comedy movies don’t always export well. It is often very regional, and the biggest comedy movie star in many countries is completely unknown among others. Yet in this film, you seem to have found a kind of humor that can exacerbate that tendency.
Leon de Aranoa: I think it’s a universal kind of humor in American and Italian cinema, as you can see in “The Apartment”, which is born out of drama, out of pain. Everyone understands this kind of humor. We are all inspired by the same thing and forced to cry. I think we tap into that kind of humor with our story. It comes from the drama between the characters. Jose, a laid-off worker who camps alone outside the factory, is probably the best example. He’s a castway, he’s desperate from the first minute, and I think viewers can relate to it anywhere.
Perhaps it’s because I’m American and we’ve got a lot of stories about bosses and executives who are real villains to their employees, but I have some redemptive features of Blanco. He thinks deeply for Mirales, after being sarcastic with Roman, he brings him headphones to help quell the protest. How did you work with this role and prepare Blanco in such a way that he is not just a completely unpleasant thing?
Bardem: I think it had a lot to do with the complexity of Fernando’s writing, the way he created the character of both light and shadow. He is selfish and driven by the need for recognition and consolidation and protection of his powers no matter what and who gets in his way. Beyond that, there is more subtlety. He’s a very charismatic person, and he really needs to impress people the way he does. I also think that this is a common denominator among the real examples mentioned in the United States, they have received charisma, and sometimes charismatic people are forgiven too much. I didn’t have any specific examples of that when playing Blanco, but I was thinking about those features, especially in the context of this country.