Around the World in 80 films: No. 3 – The Boss of it All (Denmark)

The Boss of it AllIn what appears to be quite a practical decision in terms of my cinematic journey around the globe, I have decided to hang out in Scandinavia a little longer and moved from Finland to Denmark. As well as being a relatively simple step in the physical plane of existence, it was also quite an easy choice for my next film, a 90 minute comedy described on the DVD case as being “like The Office directed by a mad genius”.

Hmmm.

Leaving aside the fact that I’m sure Ricky Gervais would probably tell that The Office actually was directed by a genius, the idea of a knockabout comedy directed by uber-nutjob auteur Lars von Trier intrigued me. Despite being seduced by the idea of the Dogme film movement, I have yet to find a von Trier film that I’ve actually enjoyed. The Idiots was bemusing, Antichrist was disturbing, and Melancholia was simply boring. Compared to his Dogme co-founder Thomas Vinterberg (director of the utterly brilliant Festen and The Hunt), I just struggle to see the big deal about mad old Lars.

And sadly, The Boss of it All hasn’t really changed much.

The premise is a promising one, so much so that Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz has apparently signed on to direct an American remake. The film focusses on a small IT company which is preparing to be bought out by a large Icelandic firm. However, the owner of the firm (Ravn, played by Peter Gantzler) has created a mythical ‘boss of it all’ to take the flak for all the unpopular decisions, while taking credit for anything that pleases the staff. When the potential buyer refuses to deal with a ‘stooge’, Ravn hires an overthinking and enthusiastic actor (Krisstoffer, played by Jens Albinus) to play the part of the Boss. As Krisstoffer delves deeper into his role he starts questioning his motivations, and taking increasingly erratic decisions affecting the staff and the sale.

It’s certainly my favourite von Trier so far, and some scenes are both inspired and hilarious. The trouble is that the director obviously can’t allow himself to make a simple comedy, and so gimmicks and Brechtian constructs soon get in the way of what is a rather simple narrative with a lot of promise. Just when we’re getting into the story, an unknown narrator informs the audience that due to the generic conventions of comedy we are about to introduce a surprise character to add conflict. At other times we go ten or fifteen minutes without even an attempt at a joke. It appears as though The Boss of it All would rather be clever than funny.

The other bizarre thing about the film are the number of jolting jump cut and some odd choices of framing. It turns out that von Trier was using a system called Automavision, which allows the director to choose a fixed camera position, and then a computer chooses when to pan, tilt, zoon, or cut. It’s an interesting experiment, but one that ultimately alienates the audience further from the film.

It’s not often I say this, but I’m looking forward to the American remake.

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