By Mónica Delgado

As part of the Latin American premieres in this edition of the 74th Cannes Film Festival, El Empleado y el Patrón (The Employee and the Boss), by Uruguayan filmmaker Manuel Nieto Zas, appears in the selection of feature lengths at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs. Nieto Zas returns after a “silence” of eight years, after making El lugar del hijo (2013), a film with great affinity with this new work, since both pose male relationships, from absences and presence of family ties, and from the rural life in the north of the country.

As the title of the film indicates, here we are in the field of polarities or distances between social classes, confrontations between country and city and weak links between characters marked by their place of origin. But, it is also a work where formal and plot details move the film away from possible common places around the figure of a cinema about the rich and the poor, and take it to the territory of the thriller where Nieto Zas appears firmly and with not a few creative ideas (or outputs).

Nahuel Pérez Biscayart plays a young man from the city who is insecure or disinterested in his new task as regent of his father’s hectares of fields and livestock, while he has a strained relationship with his wife, since they suspect that their son of months may have a birth defect. However, the initial approach of  El Empleado y el Patrón, focused on a problem of a young family, does not seem to promote more than a discreet conflict of the couple. However, in these first minutes, of family routines, walks on the beach, car trips, some flashbacks appear to be concatenated to this linearity that function as reminiscences of a less pessimistic past (of this new pattern), full of nostalgia, in relation to feelings he seems to have lost. Due to these gadgets it is likely that too many loose ends would be perceived, however, they are ways that Nieto Zas has to describe this character, that of Pérez Biscayart, in his immaturity and semi sleepwalking. Despite the feeling of being on quicksand, without knowing if the filmmaker is going to choose a conventional path, of a rural drama or take us to another type of development, it is that “the employee” appears: a young farm worker, son of a foreman, played by Cristian Borges, who is going to materialize a network of correspondences between the material and symbolic with the protagonist. With the arrival of this character, the film acquires another dimension, in a game of oppositions, not only on the social plane, but from the intimate nature of both men.

Based on a couple of capital events, Nieto Zas manages to establish what unites and separates these two male characters, never in dispute or in sympathy, since there are very few moments in which the characters can sustain a dialogue beyond of the functional; their closeness is more due to a usual relationship forced by the same division of labor. And perhaps this type of nexus towards the end is what makes it possible for subtleties to appear, especially in the framework of a competition of horsemen, where Nieto’s gaze is sensitive, in search of a “poetic” that goes beyond the literal or the obvious. Moments where, without a doubt, the best Nieto seen in years appears.

As in El Lugar del Hijo, this is a film about uprooted characters, who return to the countryside and who do not seek a space in the world, but just acquire an awareness far from the usual unknowns of belonging.

Directors’ Fortnight 2021

Direction: Manuel Nieto Zas
Music: Holocausto Vegetal
Photography: Arauco Hernández Holz
Edition: Pablo Riera
Music: Holocausto Vegetal y Buenos Muchachos
Sound: Catriel Vildosola, Guillermo Picco and Gabriel Bervian
Cast: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Cristian Borges, Justina Bustos, Fátima Quintanilla, Jean Pierre Noher
Production Company: Roken Films, Pasto Cine, Vulcana Cinema, Paraiso Production, Murillo Cine, Sancho & Punta, Nadador Cine
Uruguay-Argentina-Brazil-France, 2021, 106 min