THE BOSS OF IT ALL

NR
Reviews

There he is, Lars von Trier, perched behind a camera on a crane that's extending itself up the side of an anonymous cube of an office building, shooting footage of himself reflected in the windows, riffing on Bergman's famous self-shot from Persona but talking in a way that couldn't be less serious. It's going to be a comedy, he explains, with a whiff of exasperation. In case the point wasn't firmly enough made, he goes at it again: "This film won't be worth a moment's attention."

He's wrong, of course. The film, The Boss of It All, is certainly worth attention, even if only for the roughly 100 minutes that it's unspooling on the screen. It's a phantom sort of construct that wouldn't stand up to much inspection, nor is it meant to. One can imagine von Trier, archangel of the strict Dogme movement and scabrous indicter of cinematic convention and the general American-ness polluting films (not to mention the world), deciding to have a good time of things and turn expectation on its head. And so The Boss of It All popped into theatres with hardly any of the adulation or condemnation that usually accompanies the man's works. Just a comedy, even if it's one constructed along pretty ascetic lines; the aesthetic is functional, office-park-plain, and borderline automated. (In fact, the camerawork is handled by a computer program called Automavision, which handles--occasionally randomly--where the camera is to be pointed, and is actually credited for the cinematography.) This may not be a strict Dogme film, but to the average (and, it's safe to say, pretty well-entertained) viewer, the difference will be meaningless.

Ravn (Peter Gantzler), a manager at a Danish IT company, has been keeping his half-dozen top workers (known as the "Six Seniors") in line through the fictitious creation of a "Boss of It All" who lives in America, communicates only rarely, and thus allows Ravn many opportunities for manipulation and outsourcing of blame. In order to facilitate the morally challenged sale of his company--in which the workers get screwed out of shares in the profitable software system they developed for it--Ravn brings in out-of-work actor Kristoffer (Jens Albinus) to play the part of the boss. An insufferable head case of an aesthete, Kristoffer seems glum in his new position, thinking only of avant-garde theory and the role of the artist in modern society. He's initially the subject of most of the film's wicked laughs, being set up for Barton Fink-style moments of eye-rolling pretense. ("I'm an actor. The character is my law. The script is my court.")

But it isn't long before The Boss of It All segues into a wider kind of comedy, lampooning the vicious and hidden inhumanity of office politics, all those naked impulses smothered behind stark and bloodless Danish propriety. Kristoffer plays the Boss as a patiently nodding buffoon, without a clue in the world as to what the company does or what he's even been e-mailing these people over the years. Against his implacable mask, the workers project their hopes, lusts and hates, resulting in a solid handful of hilarious and farcical scenes. It's "Dilbert" as adapted by Bergman, with a high degree of anti-elitist satire thrown into the mix. But even the satire here shouldn't be taken too seriously, as von Trier keeps popping up in the narrative to let us in on what his intentions are. By the time he gets around to declaring that "I obey the laws of the genre [comedy, in this case]," just before spraying his set with a full batch of time-worn clichés, it's more than clear what a goof this all is, and a curiously happy one at that.