Here is one way to examine exploitative workplaces run by executives who will stoop low to prop up the bottomline: with a big wink and a sly grin.

Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s Spanish-language satire The Good Boss, which is out on Amazon Prime Video, hilariously skewers the work culture at a family-owned company. Its boss is fond of inspirational speeches that include the sentiment that his employees are like his own children, but isn’t averse to summarily sacking or manipulating employees as he sees fit. If an elderly worker has to work at the boss’s house on a Sunday – it’s all about loving your family.

Blanco’s industrial scales manufacturing unit is up for an important government award. It’s a busy time for Blanco (Javier Bardem) – he has sacked a worker, is trying to resolve a high-ranking manager’s domestic crisis, and has a decidedly un-fatherly attitude towards an attractive new intern.

The laid-off worker brings his anger to the company’s doorstep. The employee in the middle of a failing marriage threatens to go nuclear. The intern whom Blanco is eyeing – not for the first time –has her own agenda. Meanwhile, the deadline for the prestigious award nears, causing a few creases in Blanco’s neatly pressed suits.

Unflappable even at the height of his venality, Blanco is a corporate monster we may have had the misfortune of meeting at least once during our careers. He’s played with unerring precision by the redoubtable Javier Bardem, easily one of Spain’s greatest contributions to world cinema.

De Aranoa’s screenplay is as seductive as Blanco himself, inviting us to get behind him while laying out the consequences of his unpardonable actions. Blanco strives for the “perfect balance” that is provided by the product he manufactures. If it means lying, interfering and worse – it’s all just good business in the pursuit of “excellence”. Tucked into the subtle comedy is a razor-sharp commentary on workplace ethics that trumps the film’s heavy-handed counterparts in Hollywood.

The Good Boss (2021).