The Reeler


May 23, 2007

The Boss of it All

A demented von Trier tonic breaks up his miserablist USA trilogy

Needing a breather after the completion of the first two parts of his miserabilist USA trilogy (Dogville [2003] and Manderlay [2005]), Lars von Trier has dashed off one of his most entertaining (and funniest) films to date, The Boss of it All. A manic farce set in the offices of an IT firm in Denmark, the plot revolves around the fictitious president that the true owner, Ravn (Peter Gentzler), invents in order to avoid the blame for harsh measures taken against his employees. He hires an unemployed actor, Kristoffer (Jens Albinus, from von Trier's The Idiots), to take on the role when he needs a body to sell the company to a group of tetchy Icelanders.

Kristoffer turns out to be insufferably pretentious, yelling "Ibsen was a moron!" and perfecting a "mournful and remote look," perfect for the plays of his idol Gambini (his favorite of which is a three-hour, one-act play about a chimney sweep who lives in a town without chimneys). As Kristoffer, Albinus is deft enough to stretch his improv-sketch character out to feature length, able to wring endless variations out of slack-jawed grasping for words. The rest of the cast bounces off of him with sharply drawn idiosyncrasy, especially Gorm (Casper Christensen), he of the "rural depression," and Mette (Louise Mieritz), so sensitive she shrieks every time the copier whirs to life.

The comic invention never flags, with superb bits that unveil the deep-seated hatred between Icelanders and Danes, the persuasive power of syrupy melodrama and the guilt-free pleasure of passing the buck (all the way to the absurdist peak of the "boss of the boss of it all"). Incapable of playing it straight, von Trier laces the film with self-reflexive jibes, inserting himself lounging in the director's chair and repeatedly emphasizing his work's unimportance. Seen mirrored by the office's windows, sitting behind the camera on a crane, the director opens by stating, "You can see my reflection won't be worth a moment's reflection."

The director creates another layer of distance through his use of what he calls Automavision: "a principle for shooting film ... developed with the intention of limiting human influence by inviting chance in from the cold." This effect is accomplished by using a computer to randomly assign the use of tilts, pans, focal lengths and other variables; Von Trier picks the fixed camera position, but the computer randomizes all of the other movement. What results is a jarring mish-mash of montage: Figures are squeezed into the far edges of frames only to loom closer in the next; heads are subjected to the occasional chopping. The technique maintains a vestige of visual coherence and ends up generating its own jagged rhythm, effectively complementing the wild groanings of the plot. It's a gimmick to be sure, but one that fascinates rather than annoys.

In the unlikely event that one's attention does happen to lag, von Trier offers the option of playing Lookey, a game which requires the viewer to discover every out-of-context item inside the film, all of which form a code to be cracked. The winner (only Danes are eligible) receives a cash prize and the opportunity to be an extra in von Trier's next project, Antichrist, which posits Satan as the creator of the world. At last word, however, it is on hold following von Trier's recent admission that he's struggling with depression and is unsure of when he'll be able to work again. There's already speculation that this is another one of his pranks, and The Boss of It All acts as a demented tonic to tide us over until either the truth or his latest provocation is unveiled.

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