Monday, May 28, 2007

The Boss of It All

A typically cynical offering from director Lars von Trier, The Boss of It All transplants the director's bitter worldview to a comedic format that, for all its laughs (and the film is quite funny), can't help but leave the viewer with a lingering unpleasantness. The film's premise is simple and rife with comic possibilities. Ravn (Peter Gantzler), the owner of a small Danish IT company is selling the business to an Icelandic buyer. When he founded the company, he created a fictional boss, safely inaccessible in America, on whom he could blame all his unpopular decisions while, under the guise of a regular employee, earning the affection of his colleagues. Now, the Icelandic buyer demands to negotiate with the real owner, so Ravn hires Kristoffer (Jens Albinus), an out-of-work actor to play the role of the fictional "Boss of It All".

As Kristoffer spends a week at the company, he draws out the resentments (as well as the sexual attractions) of the company's employees. Much of the film's humor derives from his lack of understanding of the company's functions, accurately pointing up the disconnect between employer and employee in the modern workplace. "IT?" Kristoffer says to Ravn. "That's impossible to understand." In addition, von Trier assembles a surprisingly effective comic gallery of quirky employees, from the woman who is terrified of the copy machine to the bellicose provincial. Eventually, Kristoffer catches on to the cynical workings of Ravn's impending sale: the whole company will be left without jobs at a moment's notice and will get nothing for its development of the company's system. The second half of the picture chronicles the burgeoning conscience of the actor as he attempts to use his newfound understanding to sabotage Ravn's project. Still, the flippancy of von Trier's ending in which this conscience is instantaneously tossed aside is out of keeping with the rest of the film, but perfectly in line with von Trier's methods, recalling the (intentionally) melodramatic twists in his more successful Dancer in the Dark. In one of the director's several voice overs, he underlines the importance of sticking to the rules of the comedic genre, but he gleefully overthrows the film's comic framework to affix an unexpectedly cynical ending, as if he had at last lost patience with directing a straightforward comedy and could no longer refrain from injecting an unmixed dosage of his characteristic bitterness.

The film is mostly confined to the claustrophobic interiors of the office building, where the narrow hallways necessitate constant interaction between co-workers. The relentless grays of the interiors, mirrored by the snowfall outside the windows, emphasize the drab nature of day-to-day office life. The film is shot in accordance with a new technique developed by von Trier known as Automavision. Von Trier programs his camera to take the best possible shot in each scene and leaves the shooting in the machine's hands, the human input ending with the programming. Such an approach may seem appropriate given the technological nature of the company (the technique further emphasizing the depersonalization of technology), but it proves rather distracting to the viewer. The camera changes shots too frequently and many of the images are awkwardly framed. Still, von Trier is one of the few filmmakers so devoted to trying new techniques and new approaches to filmmaking, an experimental restlessness much to be admired. Von Trier's body of work assures him a place among the world's most important filmmakers, even if his pessimistic vision is off-putting to many viewers and critics alike. Still, his is a wholly legitimate worldview, and even if it fails to benefit a work like The Boss of It All, sucking much of the enjoyment from the comedy, it ensures his continuance as one of the most committed artists working today. The Boss of It All is a minor, but welcome addition to his oeuvre.

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