Currently in cinemas, Employé / Patron is a social thriller carried by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, revealed in France in 120 beats per minute. Meeting with the actor and director Manuel Nieto behind this film presented at the Cannes Film Festival.
Suddenly plunged into rural Uruguay, Employee / Boss (El Empleado y El Patron, in VO) puts two social classes in opposition through the conflict that animates a small agricultural owner and one of his employees on his soybean farm. A terrible tragedy will upset the fragile balance of this working relationship where the ascendant will always have the last and terrible word.
Between western and thriller, this film by Manuel Nieto paints a violent portrait of a peasant world that is increasingly precarious but aspiring to ever more freedom despite the difficulties. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, the revelation of 120 beats per minute, delivers a dark and counter-intuitive performance against a moving young Cristian Borges. Presented at the last Cannes Film Festival during the Directors’ Fortnight, Employé / Patron is out in theaters today.
AlloCiné: The film is built on the relationship between this employee and this boss, who could have been friends, if their social conditions and a terrible accident had not been obstacles. Has the screenplay always been thought out this way or have you reworked it according to the shoot?
Manuel Nieto: Yes, there were changes in the script as the filming progressed because after filming the first part of the film, we realized that the film as we had imagined it was too big for what we could afford and for the time given to us. We cut a third of the script, 60 sequences and obviously what was in it, we had to reintroduce it into the script but in a condensed way.
Then, when we filmed the next two parts, we kept what we had shot because you have to know that a day of shooting is very expensive, on this film it was 20,000 dollars and I am also a producer , so it had to be taken into account (laughs). Finally, I believe that these modifications that we made to the scenario, – this tightening -, allowed a tension which is more important in the film, from the moment when the accident occurs.
It’s true that this tension tilts the film into a thriller and sometimes even a western with the very dreamlike horse racing sequences. What were your inspirations in terms of staging?
Manuel Nieto: It is certain what you say. The inspiration, I would say that it is my personal adventure, very particular during the shooting. It’s attending a horse race, organizing a wild boar hunt, bringing the whole team and all the equipment to a remote corner, that’s the logistical part. And for the film, I see it as a large painting which goes from one place to another, which shows a region which is very vast and which we are going to cover without ever looking back. It’s giving people things they’ll never get to see. I believe it is this desire that inspired the staging.
Nahuel, the French public discovers you in this new film at Cannes in a completely different register after 120 beats per minute. Did the shooting go well? What did you like about this film?
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: It was a shooting done in three parts, I participated in the first and the last. It went very well, it was fluid and calm. It was great to go back to the source of cinematic creation with a little homemade film. I found the script very strong and I really wanted, after shooting a film in Belarus which was very big and commercial, to move on to something smaller, to a film at human height. And I knew Manuel’s work, so I went for it.
Did you talk to Manuel about the changes in the scenario? Has your character also undergone any changes?
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: No, Manuel is very concrete, he also teaches, and he was precise with his script. I gave him my complete trust. Every time he changed something, he sent me the notes and I followed the movement. I completely agree with him, the film has gained strength thanks to this condensation somewhat imposed by financial constraints.
In the end, the character was pretty clear from the start. I kind of see the film as a long scene that unfolds throughout, you just had to get into a certain state and move this story forward in the most organic way possible. What has mostly changed are the dramatic stakes.
What were the big changes as a result?
Manuel Nieto: There were a lot of small scenes from the world of the boss, which weren’t important as such, but which put together made it possible to construct an idea. The multiplication of these scenes eased the tension. There were still some interesting dialogues so I had to distill them into the main scenes.
The Boss faces an employee passionate about horse racing. Was it obvious to call on a non-professional actor, Christian Borgeswho is impressive against Nahuel?
Manuel Nieto: Yes, it was a fundamental idea which was the materialization of the two universes. Starting from the world of the boss and having professional actors and arriving at the world of the employee and having non-professional actors sought after in the region where we shot.
Cristian Borges was also excellent with horses since he is a trainer of horses that have never been ridden. But he wasn’t used to racing so he had some practice. He is very young, very intelligent and he observed Nahuel a lot. He watched everything on set.
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart: Cristian was a very alert and very capable person on set. He learned quickly, he was not afraid to go there. At the end of filming, he asked me if I thought he could take steps to play in a telenovela in Argentina. He asked me for contacts. I loved working with him, he was very available, very open, very observant. He very quickly understood the logic of a film shoot. I was very admiring.
Interview by Mégane Choquet on July 10, 2021 in Cannes.