Always full of surprises, Lars von Trier moves far from the didactic, this-is-good-for-you medicine of Manderlay
to a seemingly light comedy, The Boss of It All
. Naturally, things are not that simple when dealing with one of Dogma's founding members. In this film, he is, among other things, experimenting with a new (and dubious) camera system; taking shots at pretentious actors (after having worked with and clashed with stars like Nicole Kidman); passing sly moral judgments on globalization; and even having fun with Icelanders.
The film does mark a return to his roots, of sorts. It is in Danish with mostly Danish actors, and eschews allegory for what is remarkably close to screwball comedy. It is a refreshing change, whatever you call it, and marks his most accessible work in years. It has arrived in such an off-hand manner in the U.S. that it may escape the notice of all but the most ardent art house lovers. Too bad. It is certainly a whole lot more enjoyable than Manderlay, which felt like a trip to the dentist.
Von Trier begins with his camera tracking up the side of a soulless office building. His reflection alongside the camera is seen in the windows. Yes, a strange start to a movie, he says, but no worries: This is a comedy and harmless as such. No preaching or swaying of opinion. "This film won't cause you more than a moment's reflection," he concludes.
This fish-out-of-water comedy begins with the fact that Ravn (Peter Gantzler
), a longtime director and secret owner of an IT company, is a wuss, so much so that he has created a nonexistent and perpetually absent "boss of it all" to make the unpopular decisions he is afraid to announce to his staff himself. But when he wants to sell the company to a disgruntled Icelander (director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson) -- who despises Danes in the first place -- Ravn suddenly needs that boss to exist, if only to give him the power of attorney to sign papers.
He hires an out-of-work actor, Kristoffer (Jens Albinus
). But Kristoffer's line readings are so overdone at the key meeting, the Icelander storms out and demands Kristoffer come to the next meeting, power of attorney be damned. When Kristoffer introduces himself to employees, Ravn has no choice but to let the actor continue in the role for a week.
The problem is the boss of it all is different things to different people, according to the misinformation supplied by Ravn. To one woman he is gay. To another he has proposed marriage. One man, upon meeting him, slugs him. Another woman screams every time the copying machine springs to life.
In a series of skit-like scenes, Kristoffer must sort out the "back story" of his character. As he does so, he comes to like the senior employees and to feel that Ravn may be cheating them.
The comic complications grow quite wonderfully silly, and are aided by the deadpan deliveries of most of the actors. Even better, most of the film takes place in an arid office building bathed in a Nordic gray-green light, which couldn't look more awful.
Of course, the awful look may have something to do with von Trier's new whiz-bang camera system. This film, you understand, was not shot by a cinematographer. No, it was shot by Automavision, which hands control of the camera to a computer program.
This is, media notes explain, "a principle for shooting film developed with the intention of limiting human influence by inviting chance in from the cold." Which explains the odd framings, though not the internal jump cuts within scenes making everything seem unsettled and nervous.
Let's just say the movie is a success but the experiment a failure.
THE BOSS OF IT ALL
IFC First Take
A Zentrope Entertainment 21/Memfis Film International/Slot Machine/Lucky Red production
Screenwriter-director: Lars von Trier
Producers: Meta Louise Foldager
, Vibeke Windelov, Signe Jensen
Executive producers: Lene Borglum, Peter Albaek
Director of photography: Automavision
Production designer: Simone Grau
Costume designer: Manon Rasmussen
Editor: Molly M. Stensgaard
Kristoffer: Jens Albinus
Ravn: Peter Gantzler
Lise: Iben Hjejle
Nalle: Henrik Prip
Heidi A.: Mia Lyhne
Gorm: Casper Christensen
Mette: Louise Mieritz
Spencer: Jean-Marc Barr
Kisser: Sofie Grabol
Finnur: Fridrick Thor Fredriksson
Running time -- 98 minutes
No MPAA rating