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CANNES 2021 Director’s Fortnight

Review: The Employer and the Employee

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- CANNES 2021: The film by the Uruguayan Manuel Nieto Zas explores the special, complex and ambiguous relationship between a rich young man and one of his employees

Review: The Employer and the Employee
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart and Cristian Borges in The Employer and the Employee

The film The Employer and The Employee [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, a coproduction between Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, is the third feature directed by Manuel Nieto Zas (with dialogues in Portuguese, Spanish and French) and had its world premiere in Director’s Fortnight at the 74th Cannes Film Festival. “Things that happen…” this is what Carlos (Cristian Borges), the young protagonist of this social and rural drama, repeats over and over again like an impossible and resigned mantra, in the face of different tragedies and setbacks that ravage his life. Just a kid with no work experience in agriculture and no tractor driver’s license, he is recruited by the modern and liberal son of his boss, Rodrigo (played by Argentinian actor Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, famous after his appearance in Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute) [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Arnaud Valois
interview: Robin Campillo
film profile
]
), and a curious relationship develops between them – some kind of fellowship based on respect, understanding and empathy. Meanwhile, tension rises with their respective wives (Justina Bustos and Fátima Quintanilla), caused by the fact that both of them are mothers with different fates.

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The Uruguayan filmmaker Nieto Zas (born in Montevideo in 1972), with an elegant and more mature use of ellipses and of the off-screen space, and through the gaze of his excellent actors, suggests the complex situations that his characters live in (sometimes silently) and asserts a naturalism that faithfully reflects the difficult life in the countryside of his country, as well as the different social classes. He depicts the impossible attempt of rapprochement of two opposite ways of challenging the world, by showing the wide (and serious) distance that separates his two main characters, some very deep ditches that cannot be closed even with their best intentions.

In The Employer and The Employee, whose seemingly contemplative and calm plot captures an increasingly unbearable feeling of regret, the presence of a white horse is more than symbolic, and makes the final stretch of the film work as a mirror between two men and South American rural society. This is recurring motif in the filmography of this director/screenwriter, who started in 2006 with his film The Dog Pound, winner of the Tiger Award at the 35th International Film Festival Rotterdam, and continued with The Militant (2013), unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival and winner of the FIPRESCI prize at the Habana Festival.

The Employer and The Employee (winner of the Egeda Platino International prize as the best project in WIP atam at the 2020 San Sebastián International Film Festival) is a production by the Uruguayan Roken Films, in co-production with Pastor and Murillo Cine, the Brazilian Vulcano Cinema, Sancho&Punta, the French Paraíso Production Diffusion in association with Nadador Cine. The international sales are handled by Latido Films.

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(Translated from Spanish by Isha Hernández)

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