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Cannes Film Festival
Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2021:

Manuel Nieto Zas
The Employer and The Employee

The employer is a young man who seems to have everything going for him, yet he is plagued by one concern: the health of his baby. The employee is looking for a job to provide for his newborn baby and does not hesitate when the first one offers to hire him to work on his land. Thanks to their mutual assistance, the two will meet their needs. But one day an accident occurs. This event will strain the ties that bind them and endanger the fate of the two families.

Hi Manuel, thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?

Hi there. I think it has gone fairly well for me. What was most important was to keep the family balance. I have a wife and three kids. We all had to do great sacrifices to maintain the equilibrium at home. Regarding the film, I had to put a hold on it. We wanted to finish the film faster and allow it to have an international run earlier but this was not possible. But in the end, this allowed us to finalize the financing of the post-production, which at the time was not 100% secured yet, and to finalize the film with the quality it deserved. Time is always is helpful in this process, and the pandemic actually gave us the extra time. 

Have you been inspired to take on any new creative opportunities?

I have not been inspired by what has happened worldwide over the past 18 months. I have been worried because of the lack of freedom and how this has affected for the worse the open spaces for the arts, sports, and overall cultural entertainment sectors.

You had an incredible festival run with your previous feature films La perrera & El lugar del hijo picking up multiple awards, did you imagine you would get such an amazing reaction to your films? 

With "La perrera" it was great to be awarded the Tiger Award at Rotterdam.  "El lugar del hijo" had a lot of international awards, but not a great run internationally. I still think this is a film for the world to discover.

How different was your approach to The Employer and the Employee compared to your previous films?

I think is a more mature film, as I am a more mature person. As opposed to my  other two previous films, this latest one is more humourless. In my previous films, it was key for me to have some sort of dark humor injected within them. Whereas THE EMPLOYER AND THE EMPLOYEE can be read and interpreted in several different ways. Furthermore, my latest film has two lead characters, and we have built two opposite but complementary worlds. Whereas the employer world is performed by professional actors, the employee world is populated by non professionals, with actors chosen on location. I find it amazing that Cristian Borges (the employee) who comes straight from the fields, has been able to act at the same level of a great actor such as Nahuel Pérez Biscayard. There are no different acting styles in this movie. 

Congratulations on The Employer and the Employee having its World Premiere at the 2021 Quinzaine Realisateurs, what does it mean to you to have your film part of this year's festival?

Being part of Quinzaine is the best way to crown this long process of developing and creating the film. It took a year to write, three to produce and finance, shooting over three different periods and a full year of post-production. You can imagine I am really thrilled to be there, it was a dream we had and now it is a reality.

Can you tell me how The Employer and the Employee, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?

After my previous film, "El lugar del hijo", I knew I wanted to continue exploring the rural world and characters. On the other hand, I got married and through my wife (who comes from a totally different background) I had the chance to meet people very much similar to the "patron" of the film. It was not difficult to put those two in the same dramatic environment, both under the fear of the death of the children. And that was also something that I, as a new father, was experimenting as well. 

What was the hardest scene for you to film?

The final sequence with the horse race (raid). These are traditional races in Uruguay and in order to shoot we had to register our own fiction horses and our characters. We shot a real race, with more than 40 horses, 40 pickups and even more vehicles who are part of the caravan. On top of that, we had a van with the camera grip. Shooting more than four hours under those conditions in order to obtain the quality material we needed was our greatest challenge.

When working on a project like this how important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking?

I wrote the film in Uruguay, produced the film and directed it. Everything can be replaced except the actors and the director. This was a very personal project, but it took a bigger dimension than expected. A lot of people were involved. And I trusted the success of the film in a lot of them. I cannot but thank the creative loyalty of the whole crew and their patience to follow what was in my head during what was a long shooting year.

As a writer/director do you allow yourself much flexibility with your screenplay or do you like to stick to what has been written?

It is no use to grab what is written as a gospel. The word in the screenplay are "almost" abstract ideas. I grab the concrete and the material that emerges, from the place I shoot, the actors I have and what the camara allows me to do.

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Yes, almost forever. I’ve been considering myself as a partner of the Uruguayan Cinemetaque since I was 17 years old.


"I cannot but thank the creative loyalty of the whole crew and their patience to follow what was in my head during what was a long shooting year."

Does being part of this new generation of Uruguayan cinema add any additional pressure on you?

I am 48 years old, this is my 3rd movie. I honestly do not feel like I’m a part of a “new generation” in anything.

What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed or experienced within Uruguayan cinema since you started out?

What I’ve been noticing is that first time directors are choosing to do genre movies. The way I see it, genres are killing the risk, the audacity and the freshness that first time films used to have before.

Do you have any any advice or tips you would offer any emerging Uruguayan filmmaker?

Do not make genre movies! Take risks. I suspect that behind genres and its cliches, they are just looking for security.

And finally, what do you want audiences will take away from The Employer and the Employee?

I would love the audience to come out of the film with doubts. With questions in their heads. I would love that the film makes them question assumptions. If they feel questioned themselves, they will also feel something in terms of emotions.

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