The Boss of It All
Billed as the first comedy from Dogme95 co-founder Lars von Trier, The Boss of It All is actually the latest mindfuck from the Danish provocateur. There’s nothing innocuous about von Trier, despite an attempt to placate his audience. “Although you see my reflection, trust me,” he coos, as his image appears on the windows of an office building, “this film won’t be worth a moment’s reflection.” Don’t bet on it.
Ravn (Peter Gantzler), the unscrupulous owner of a Danish IT firm, steals a profitable patent from his devoted programmers and creates a combative working environment, but hates being disliked. So Ravn invents imaginary head honcho Svend Eckersberg to take the blame. During the sale of the company, a stubborn executive from Iceland (Fridrik Thor Fridriksson) demands to meet the “real” boss, and Ravn hires pretentious actor Kristoffer (Jens Albinus) to embody his figurehead.
There’s a great deal of malicious fun to be had when Kristoffer, an actor accustomed to planning every move in meticulous detail, is forced to improvise. As if portraying the much reviled “boss of it all” wasn’t difficult enough, Ravn has failed to provide the needy actor with a key piece of information: “Svend” has been regularly emailing his employees, and presenting a very different portrait of himself to each one. So Kristoffer is forced to readjust his high-stakes impersonation with head spinning regularity. Things get even more farcical when Kristoffer’s ex-wife (Sofie Gråbøl) arrives and instantly sees through the deception. She’s an attorney representing the Icelandic buyer, and quickly uses her intimate knowledge to gain the upper hand in the negotiations.
Throughout this bitterly funny film, writer and director von Trier plays with comedic conventions, and the best running gag is Kristoffer’s devotion to (fictional) absurdist playwright Gambini, whose work never delivers what it promises. It’s an apt joke for a filmmaker who doesn’t want his audience to ever get too comfortable. In The Boss of It All, he employs an off-putting editing style: not quite jump cuts, more like blink cuts, as if you’ve closed your eyes and in that split second, the scene has shifted slightly. The disorientation is deliberate.
Well-versed in subtle and overt forms of cruelty, Lars von Trier doesn’t believe in passive cinema or following preconceived notions of entertainment. Even in his best-known, English-language films Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000.) and Dogville (2003), von Trier systematically transforms his main characters into sacrificial lambs and gleefully delivers them to the slaughter. He’s always been the boss of it all. You’ll have to pay for your laughter.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on May 23, 2007 by IFC Films
First published in the Metro Times.