The owner of an IT firm wants to sell up. The trouble is that when he started his firm he invented a nonexistent company president to hide behind when unpopular steps needed taking. When potential purchasers insist on negotiating with the "Boss" face to face the owner has to take on a failed actor to play the part. The actor suddenly discovers he is a pawn in a game that goes on to sorely test his (lack of) moral fibre.Written by
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In Lars von Trier's small-scale, Automavision (computer-edited) Danish-language film comedy Ravm (Peter Gantzler) is the spineless (but mean) CEO of an IT company. He's such a people-pleaser he's hidden his real rank all along so the staff won't resent his more unpopular decisions. Now on the verge of selling the company out from under them, he calls in a "self-important, out-of-work" actor, Kristoffer (Jens Albinus) to play the role of "boss of it all"—be his front man by proxy to sign the papers. Lars himself pops up at the middle and end as a voice and at the beginning as a voice and a reflection—just long enough to mock himself and us. He also makes fun of Danes for their sentimentality and giggling and chatter, and, because the buyers of the company are Icelandic, he makes fun of Icelanders for their over-reliance on their ancient sagas and their petulant rages.
Americans don't take a beating this time, though there's one American member of the company cadre, Spencer (Jean-Marc Barr) who's completely ineffectual around the office because he can't finish a sentence in Danish. Lars has lots of fun with actors here, and of course with offices and corporate manipulations. Kristoffer has some kind of quixotic idol called Gambini whose "masterpiece" is a droning monologue of a chimney sweep. He puts soot on his forehead for luck when embarking on his role. As the boss, previously known to staff via e-mails only as Svend E., Kristoffer is completely inept, but the six-person startup cadre members nonetheless react to him as if he were the real deal and are variously ready to beat up, have sex with, or marry him. The women act like woman (with especially nice turns by Iben Hjejle and Mia Lyhne), and the men act like children. They weren't even meant to see him: that's just the first thing that goes wrong—due to the actor's excessive zeal, he goes and introduces himself. As he gets in deeper and deeper—with zero preparation—he finds himself constantly begging Ravm for secret coaching sessions "on neutral ground" (which includes the zoo). But these do nothing to limit his amazing ability to gum up the works for everybody, especially Ravm. Things turn farcical when Finnur's lawyer shows up and turns out to be Kristoffer's ex-wife, Kisser (Sofie Grabol). Will she give away the game?
This all makes a lot of sense if you've seen Von Trier's earlier film, the semi-documentary The Five Obstructions (2003), in which he and his film-making mentor Jørgen Leth teamed up to provide, indirectly, a kind of skeleton-key to his mind. The Dogme film-making "vow of chastity" reflects von Trier's own masochistic, Brechtian, but—given the grimness of some of his film content—surprisingly playful need to be forever imposing new rules and limitations that challenge actor, filmmaker, and audience. The Five Obstructions, where the director spars with mentor Leth, shows that he's also an affectionate and modest tease. "Although you can see my reflection, this film won't be worth a moment's reflection," is his personal opener to The Boss of It All.
That "moment's reflection" von Trier says we won't need suggests on the contrary how reflexive and clever all this actually is. The film, which could be seen as a sort of droll, deadpan parody of "The Office" (though von Trier says he hasn't even seen the TV series), is a set of characters and premises that create their own movie, just as the computer editing device does. And just as we're startled and appalled at times by the ugliness of shifting light and sound levels and pointless jump cuts the Automavision produced, von Trier and his actors may have been surprised at how some of the set-ups turned out. Will Svend, AKA Kristoffer, sign over the company to the growling Icelander, Finnur (Fridrik Thor Fridriksson)? Even he doesn't know. He has to "consult" his "character." And that makes him, like Lars, a big tease. 'The Boss of It All' may be more intriguing than funny—and there will be those, primed too intensely by 'Dogville' and 'Manderlay,' who'll see it as merely cruel and misanthropic, but it's a complete change from his recent stuff, and yet utterly in character.
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