Tue 26 Jun 2007
Lars von Trier’s last two movies opened with off-screen narrators, so it’s not surprising that his latest, Boss of It All, does as well. Instead of the melodious voice of John Hurt, however, we’re treated to the higher-pitched, Danish-speaking voice of von Trier himself. He’s addressing the audience, assuring us that “Anyone can see this film. It won’t be worth a moment’s consideration. It’s a comedy and harmless as such. No preaching or swaying of opinion.” For anyone who enjoyed (or endured) Dogville or Manderlay, this assurance that there will be no preaching and instead just comedy might be greeted with skepticism. Yet von Trier follows through on his promise.
It’s an office comedy, though don’t go in expecting something like Office Space or the tv show “The Office.” Rather, von Trier starts with a ridiculous premise and rather ridiculous characters and then explores how those ideas might play out in an office setting. The story revolves around Ravn and Kristoffer. Ravn is the boss of a company, but his employees don’t know it. They also don’t know that Ravn is planning on selling the company from under their noses. But to pull this off, he has to hire the actor Kristoffer to play the fictional boss who’s never been seen, the “boss of it all.”
Kristoffer is the prototypical bad actor, exaggeratedly trying to find the “center” of the character and contemplating how he should deliver his lines. He even wants to put a smudge of soot on his forehead in honor of the playwright Gambini, whom he worships. Ravn is understandably concerned that Kristoffer will mess things up by improvising or not being suitably boss-like. But Kristoffer is thrown when in his first few moments of acting, someone else seems to be saying his lines. That opening encounter with the potential buyer, an imposing Icelandic man, is laugh-out-loud funny, as Kristoffer tries to regain his composure and Ravn tries to move the sale along. Kristoffer inserts weird pauses into his speech to make it more dramatic, but that only flusters the translator. A hilarious argument ensues about whether the Danes ruled Iceland for 400 years or vice-versa. The end result is that the Icelanders delay the sale, and suddenly Kristoffer has to “play” the boss for another week.
This leads to a series of bizarre encounters between Kristoffer and the employees. The latter are all stereotypes (von Trier skeptics will argue that all of his characters are types), such as the sexy and sexual head of human resources, the insecure worker who’s frightened of the copy machine, the belligerent computer programmer who wants to fight about the weather. The humor from these situations isn’t based on satirizing office culture but rather from watching how Kristoffer pathetically tries to pretend he’s the boss of it all and how quickly the employees accept that, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Von Trier has often poked fun at people who blindly accept what they’re told (think of The Idiots or Manderlay), but he also has a soft spot for that kind of faith. He might put Bess from Breaking the Waves through the ringer, but she’s the one for whom the bells in heaven are ringing. Even the dysfunctional Karen in The Idiots finds a sense of redemption (or at least purity) as she follows the leader’s instructions to the bitter, provocative end.
Speaking of the leader in The Idiots, the same actor Jens Albinus plays Kristoffer here, and he’s fantastic. He’s not a bad actor, but he plays one most convincingly. A scene where Kristoffer tries to guess what he supposedly wrote in an email is priceless. Peter Gantzler isn’t quite as strong in the role of Ravn, but he has a fantastic moment in the movie’s climax.
Fans of von Trier’s meta-approach will find much to appreciate. The relationship between director and actor is an obvious theme, as Ravn and Kristoffer bicker over how various scenes should be handled. Watching them, it’s hard not to think of some of von Trier’s infamous dust-ups with his leading ladies. And while he’s largely abandoned his famous Dogme rules (check this out if you’re interested), he’s devised a new artificial monkey wrench: automavision. It’s a computer program that adds the element of chance to what’s being photographed. So characters are rarely centered in the frame, which leads to some unusual and interesting compositions, though their arbitrary nature and the rapid-fire cutting that accompanies them might irritate those used to classical (or normal) filmmaking. Or you might just think von Trier is being arty. But as he himself asks in the introduction, “Why not poke fun at artsy fartsy culture?” If nothing else, von Trier can laugh at himself. I suspect you will, too.
Boss of It All: four stars, out of five
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