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A comedy by Lars Von Trier? Sounds about as likely as a Farrelly Brothers thriller or a musical by Ingmar Bergman. But that’s just what the mischievous Danish wunderkind has concocted in The Boss Of It All, an office-based farce that’s as hilariously unexpected as it is unexpectedly hilarious.
“This film won’t be worth a moment’s reflection,” Von Trier declares in an opening voiceover. “It’s a comedy, and harmless as such.” Don’t expect the Manderlay man to leave it at that, though. The Dogme master may be pulling his punches here, but they still manage to connect.
Take the plot, for example. On the surface it’s a far-fetched caprice about an unemployed actor (Jens Albinus from Von Trier’s The Idiots) hired by mousy company head Ravn (Peter Gantzler) to ‘play’ the non-existent über-boss he’s invented in order to keep his testy employees in line. As premises go, it’s pure sitcom. But that doesn’t stop Von Trier using it to poke fun at various sources. He takes potshots at ‘pushy’ Icelanders (represented by fellow filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson as the ill-tempered businessman who Ravn is planning to sell his IT firm to), ‘self-important’ thespians and ‘artsy-fartsy’ culture. Nor does it prevent the director periodically interrupting the onscreen action with wry interjections that serve the same purpose as a television ad break or a theatrical intermission.
This wouldn’t be Lars, either, without some playful experimentation with form – here supplied by random camera set-ups dictated by computer that are designed to give the work setting “an ‘idea-less’ surface free of the force of habit and aesthetics.” The off-kilter results – performers with the top of their heads chopped off or faces obscured by props – make it look like the movie was directed by Oliver Reed. But they do give proceedings a reckless, uninhibited quality that is mirrored by the storyline’s amusing twists and general feel of a world out of whack.
Does it amount to much? Not really, to be honest. But given a choice between this and another instalment in the Dogville saga, we’d take The Boss Of It All in a heartbeat.
For all the sleights of hand its director conjures up, this is an undeniably slight affair. But it's still a sublimely entertaining one from a maverick confident enough in his abilities to make fun of his previous work and his agent provocateur persona.
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