The Employer and the Employee (2021) San Sebastian 2021

September 19th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Manolo Nieto; Cast: Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Christian Borges, Justina Bustos, Fatima Quintanilla, Carlos Lacuesta, Virgine Mendez, Manuel Guedes; Uruguay 2021, 105 min.

Another big screen treat from South America in this year’s Quinzaine selection, this time from Uruguay stars trailblazing Argentine actor Nahuel Perez Biscayart who has been the toast of the international festival circuit for Persian Lessons, Beats Per Minute, and See You Up There.

Elegantly paced and thoughtful despite its rather cumbersome title this ‘upstairs downstairs’ parable unfolds in a rural community in the north Eastern part of Uruguay near the Brazilian border where the magnificent widescreen landscape is very much the star of the show.

Uruguayan writer/director Manolo Nieto’s family affair has strong magic realist undertones: his titular boss and employee are not conventional by any means – and neither are their other halves. DoP Arauco Hernandez Holz conjures up lush, languid images in a richly textured slow burn tragedy in the style of Bunuel and Nuri Bilge Ceylan Greek where servant and master are forever bound together in a paternalistic system.

The way we meet Rodrigo (Biscayart), the titular boss, is symptomatic of all the main characters: caught at the border with some weed, he looks like your typical university dropout, and not a clever one at that. A  family doctor swings by to get his baby boy Bautista to sleep in the most unorthodox way possible. Wife Federica (Bustos), a blue eyed blonde, is concerned about Bautista’s health, and later they will take him to hospital for tests, in a nice little tense undercurrent that burbles on til the film’s finale.

Uruguay’s agricultural production had to change from traditional animal farming to soya planting, and only a few labourers can manage the sophisticated machinery for the harvest. Rodrigo sets out to meet the old retainer and farm hand Lacuesta (Lacuesta) who puts forward his teenage son Carlos (Borgoes) for the job. The young man also has a baby daughter with Estafania (Quintanilla) but lacks experience or any real commitment, preferring the more glamorous job of looking after the horses, and one in particular is Hidalgo, a race horse destined to be sold to the Arabs, if it does well in a 115 km marathon race. Carlos hopes to be selected as his jockey. But clearly he’s not up to the job of driving a tractor and a serious accident reveals his shortcomings as an employee.

Surprisingly, Rodrigo gives him another chance, even taking him to a brothel, where Carlos blacks out. The situation becomes even more bizarre when Rodrigo invites Estafanie to work on the hacienda as a maid. Federica and the young woman nearly come to blows over baby Bautista’s care. But Rodrigo is in a bind: the Farmworkers’ Union has filed a lawsuit against him as the boss with overall responsibility for the tractor accident, and so he promises Carlos can ride on Hidalgo at the famous race in Santa Fe where loyalties explode in a racy finale. Manolo Nieto delivers a calmly-paced and contemplative modern thriller that ponders on the past and the present in his native Uruguay. AS

San Sebastian FILM FESTIVAL 2021 |

 

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