In the first scene of The employee and the employer, the third film by Uruguayan Manuel Nieto Zas, a woman shakes a baby to the rhythm of staccato whistles, singing sounds and a growing movement that installs the aura of a ritual. The little Baptist is wrapped in a cloth, he hangs elusively in the distance of the frame, hardly recognized by the faint moans that give him away. The ceremonial is playful but at the same time impregnated with a precise search, the discovery of a “syndrome” that may be present in it, alien to our sight. The scene sums up the gaze of Nieto Zas, who turns that millimeter space of his staging into a never stable territory, always in tension and conflict, revealed as a physical and social frontier, without ever running aground in common places or in the conversion of social relations in naturalized mandates. Presented in the Directors’ Fortnight of the last Cannes Festival and from January 13 in Argentine theaters, The employee and the employer denotes the vigor of the new Uruguayan cinema that synthesizes the figure of Manolo Nieto, capable of staging the deep roots of Latin American inequalities in a dance in which disagreements and harmonies coexist.
The opening scene concludes with an uncertain diagnosis: Bautista may or may not have the syndrome, a statement that establishes in Rodrigo (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) and Federica’s (Justina Bustos) partner a state of progressive anxiety, which is amalgamated with the demands of the imminent soybean harvest. Rodrigo is the boss of a farm on the border between Uruguay and Brazil, who must face the shortage of workers to raise the soybeans, get a driver for the harvester, meet the times required by his father and, ultimately, be there. the height of his inheritance. Despite his millennial appearance and his brotherhood cool With the employees of the estancia, Rodrigo embodies a power that is hidden in his circulation through the town, the simple clothing, the shared joint and the rock recitals, but which gravitates in its place in the world, in the exercise of a command that even in its dispersion it is still present there. Nieto patiently builds the world that surrounds his character, his imprecise limits, the guilty conscience of his authority, and he does so in an open and luminous space that hides the threats in its depths, under the apparent clarity of sunny days.
Faced with the pressure of harvesting times and the demands of his father (played by Jean-Pierre Noher), Rodrigo urgently needs an operator for the machinery. Then he ventures to the other side of the river, on that border marked by the weeds and the Portuñol, to follow the trail of Lacuesta, an old employee of his father who camped with his family in a somewhat remote place. As Lacuesta is already old and with health problems, he offers his son Carlos (Cristian Borges) as a replacement, an 18-year-old who already has a family in charge. Between the early responsibility of fatherhood and the adrenaline of the wild boar hunt, Carlos’s life is enlarged in a single dream: the possibility of running the Santa Clara raid with the best tordillo. For this reason, life on top of the tractor, on the thicket of soybeans, locked in a small wooden box while waiting for the workday only means for Carlos the preamble to that triumph that he longs for without rest. Both parents, besieged by the anxieties of their commitments, conditioned by parental mandates, Rodrigo and Carlos form a bond that seems to challenge their social places, tense those differences that seemed insurmountable at first glance.
As in the previous The kennel (2006) and Son’s place (2013), Nieto explores class conflicts beyond the usual representations, avoiding precise limits, the irruption of the conflict as a trigger, the temptation to delineate heroes and villains. In The kennelIt was the meeting of a young Uruguayan middle-class intellectual with the inhabitants of a coastal city out of season and that surprising dynamic that colored each meeting. In Son’s place, the tensions between classes emerged more obscurely from the collision between divergent forms of militancy that confronted a son with the memory of his father. Nieto not only delves into the continuities that have defined the Latin American panorama in political, economic and social terms, but also disarms city enclaves to go to territories permeated with reality rather than discourse, broadens the positions of his characters, enriches their aspirations, their dilemmas and also the painful awareness of their place.
Nieto’s decision involves placing the conflict as an emerging that exposes the false harmony of that coexistence. Thus, the relationship that is forged between Rodrigo and Carlos is altered by a work accident and its tragic consequences, but above all by its uncertain reverberations, which crystallize those differences until then camouflaged in a friendly harmony. It is complex to find that tone without falling into manipulation, because the state that is the focus of Nieto’s attention emerges from within the characters. In a scene in which Carlos distributes the barbecue among a group of diners in the room, one of the assistants asks him to serve him more whiskey. Carlos complies and fills the glass to the brim, instigated by the guest’s claim. While the beggar tries to sip the whiskey without tipping it over, Carlos laughs, motivated by the distressing situation but also as a slip of his own triumph over whoever gives him the orders. “You have to see if he is paid to laugh,” says a voice that clearly exposes the place of power he holds. Rodrigo’s face, present throughout the sequence, transfigures in its progressive expression the dilemma in which he finds himself.
The porous texture of The employee and the employer exudes the essence of its nuances, always suggestive in what lies beyond the gaze, in the perfect curve of its depths. Those immense exteriors that revealed in the duration of the shots the expectation of the ominous, coexist with the labyrinth in which the characters enter, entangled in their guilt and their attempts to escape, in the flash of a burden that they always carry on their backs. . Nieto has proven to be the best observer of this very abstract ritual, of this immovable order.