Uruguayan filmmaker Manuel Nieto’s social thriller “The Employer and the Employee,” starring Nahuel Pérez Biscayart (“Persian Lessons” and “BPM” (Beats Per Minute), comes to the San Sebastian Film Festival to close the Horizontes Latinos sidebar on Thursday, Sept. 23. It’s a journey that began at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight where it world premiered after winning development prizes at Toulouse’s Latin Film Festival, Mar del Plata’s LoboLab and San Sebastián’s WIP Latam.
Picked up by Latido Films in the run-up to Cannes in July, “The Employer and the Employee” is Nieto’s third feature after his debut “The Dog Pound,” followed by “The Militant.” If there’s a thru line to find among his films, Nieto sees several: “The leads are masculine, the father figure is always present, they deal with youth in different stages and weights of responsibility and invariably touch on the concepts of legacy, identity,” he told Variety while sitting at a sunny terrace in the Hotel Maria Cristina.
“The Employer and the Employee” follows the parallel lives of two young men, both young fathers but from opposite ends of the social spectrum. Rodrigo, played by Perez Biscayart, has been given the responsibility by his father to run the family’s soy plantation. Anxious to find a qualified driver for the estate’s combine harvesters and tractors, he hires Carlos, played by non-pro Cristian Borges, despite his obvious lack of experience. Despite their disparate backgrounds, they are mirror images of each other, both struggling with their young families and attempts to please their respective fathers. A tragedy strains the uneasy alliance they have formed.
Set in rural Uruguay, which Nieto continues to be fascinated with, the film also centers on the 100-plus year old tradition of weekend horse races in the countryside where both the rich and poor compete. “The horse symbolizes freedom and the rupture of their relationship,” explained Nieto.
While always working from his own scripts, Nieto confessed that his greatest dream would be to adapt a novel by Philip K. Dick. He has a sci fi film in development titled “Los Ladrones de Ganado” (“Cow Thieves”), which he described as a mystical, naturalist sci-fi film set in rural Uruguay. It took six years from concept to post to make “The Employer and the Employee” so he knows it will take some time to get made.
Meanwhile, he’s working on a documentary about his family, “Que Piensan Mis Hijos,” centered on his three boys, ages 5, 7 and 10, which he started filming this year. “It will be observational and discreetly filmed, and explore how they think, how they see life, their parents,” he said.
“The Employer and the Employee” was lead produced by Nieto’s Roken Films, along with Argentine companies Pasto and Murillo Cine, Brazil’s Vulcana, and Sancho & Punta and France’s Paraíso Production.
Nieto, Bárbara Francisco, Georgina Baisch, Cecilia Salim, Paola Wink, Michael Wahrmann, Julia Alves and Nathalie Trafford serve as producers.
Commenting on the multi-country backing of the film, Francisco said: “To produce a film in Latin America, it is almost a necessity to create a multilateral structure. In the case of Argentina or Brazil, the way to produce auteur cinema is by maintaining very small structures that favor specific companies per film that also lead to internal co-production agreements.”
“In the case of ‘The Employer and the Employee,” there is also the thematic issue of the film; the gaucho world of the Pampas, the social and geographical theme is common in the Uruguay-Argentina-Brazil triangle. So, in this case, a co-production like this also delves into regional cultural and social issues,” she added.
John Hopewell contributed to this article.