Dir/scr: Lars Von Trier. Den. 2006. 110mins.
After the epic sermonising of Dogville and Manderlay, Lars Von Trier is clearly in the mood for a little fun. Theomniscient narrator of The Boss Of It All even introduces the film as a humble comedylest we have any doubts about what might lie in store. Returning to the kind ofblack comedy that set the tone of TheKingdom and The Idiots, Von Trier delivers a mixture of absurdist humour and moraldilemmas that represents one of his more approachable films in recent years.
Almost a one-joke film, theclever central premise is decently sustained but the results are often amusingwithout being uproarious. The film should tickle funny bones on its Danishrelease in December but international prospects will reflect the more modestnature of the project and the fact that comedy can be such a subjective matter.Fans will find enough wry smiles and typical concerns to ensure that it is amodest hit in the territories where Von Trier has astrong following.
Seemingly inspired by theinsightful comedy of global TV hit TheOffice, Von Trier has set his film among thestaff of an IT company where boss Ravn (Peter Gantzler) has spent years hiding behind a fictitiouscompany president who takes the blame for all the unpopular decisions whilst heretains the love and loyalty of his six key staff.
When he decides to sell thecompany, the potential buyer insists on meeting the president or "boss of itall'. Unemployed actor Kristoffer (Jens Albinus) is hired to play the part and given power ofattorney. He approaches the task with all the earnestness and commitment ofDustin Hoffman's thespian in Tootsie. This isn't justa job, it is a role that he must inhabit and play to the full.
Asked to continue thedeception over the course of a week, he meets the staff and becomes morallyinvolved in their future and guilty about his part in Ravn'sgreat deception.
Filmed using Von Trier's new Automavision process(automatic randomised camera), The BossOf It All is distinguished by off-kilter framing that cuts people off atthe neck or captures them at the edge of the frame. It also entails frequentminor jump cuts that punctuate the entire narrative. Combined with a narratorwho occasionally interrupts the story or comments on the action, this lends thefilm a similar experimental air to Dogville and Manderlay.
It also shares a reliance ona central star performance. Jens Albinus gives anexcellent account of himself as the pretentious performer who regards everysituation as an improvisation. There is a good deal of amusement as we witnessthe impact of his arrival on the staff: Lise (Iben Hjejle) regards hisdithering ambiguity as a form of sexual provocation, while another staff memberinterprets an e-mail correspondence as a marriage proposal.
The fact that he has no realidea of what he is doing means that he can be all things to all peopledepending on how they choose to regard his silences, cryptic comments or nonsequiturs. This is a film where the humour arises from misunderstanding and deceptioneven as Kristoffer threatens to emerge as a man withthe moral integrity of a Frank Capra hero.
The Boss Of It All combines moments of deadpan comedy with reflectionson the nature of performance and a few moral dilemmas on the responsibilities thatwe hold over others. It is a little repetitive at times and strains for laughsand may well come to be regarded as a mellow, minor work from a European master.
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Fridrik Thor Fridriksson