Published on February 29th, 2008 | by Coco Forsythe0
The Boss Of It All
Cast: Jens Albinus, Peter Gantzler, Iben Hjelje, Henrik Prip, Mia Lynne, Casper Christensen
Lars Von Trier has kept his puckish ways but thankfully – at least temporarily – stopped pulling the wings off red-haired women, and is much the better for it.
Ravn (Gantzler) is the boss of a Danish IT company, who for years has hidden behind the figure of an imaginary director ‘the boss of it all’ in order to retain his popularity amongst the staff. But now Ravn wants to sell the company, and the Icelandic purchaser doesn’t want to waste time with the monkey – he wants to deal with the organ grinder. So Ravn hires an out of work actor, his old friend Kristoffer (Albinus), to pretend to be the director.
Naturally this is a set up that could lead to disaster.
Kirstoffer is only supposed to sign the Icelandic paperwork and go away. But the deal goes wrong, and then one of the staff catches sight of the mysterious ‘Svend’; they have worked for him for six years but never met him. Soon ‘Svend’ finds himself taking part in meetings and fielding questions – questions he has no answers to – and observing Ravn and his employees. He realises there are a lot of problems at the firm, not least of which is the fact that Ravn is deceiving the staff and blaming every difficult decision on ‘the boss of it all’ while taking all the credit for things that people like. Ravn continues to do this even when the so-called boss is in the room! As the plot thickens, Kristoffer realises that Ravn is actually stealing from the so-called original six, the staff members who between them financed his company and invented the software that has made them rich, and he decides, against his contract, to expose Ravn and help them.
From the opening moments we know Von Trier is in a playful mood. He introduces Kristoffer by describing him, in voiceover, as an annoyingly pretentious actor, and employs a completely unnecessary crane shot in order to do so. Similarly, half-way through the film, he pulls back to the exterior of the building again, reminding us that this is a film, that there are certain conventions and rules he must obey in telling the story. Of course, the enfant terrible and co-creator of the Dogme Manifesto is taking the piss – on this film he has used a technique called Automavision (briefly, the cinematographer picks a fixed camera position, and then a computer produces the shots and sound on a random basis. I think.) The results are sometimes odd – the careful lighting and colour continuity we expect is gone, with the colours changing and weird jump effects – but actually anyone watching who didn’t know this was a principle would just ignore it. The film also eschews the use of additional lights on location; for instance the zoo scenes and most exteriors are very gloomy, but I just thought they had been shot in winter.
Otherwise, its an amusingly straightforward story of corporate greed and actorly ego, and not unlike Ricky Gervais’ The Office; Ravn, like David Brent, just wants to be loved. There are lots of group hugs and songs. But Kristoffer – and actors in general – come off badly; Kristoffer is obsessed with a playwright called Gambini, who is best known for a dull monologue by a chimney sweep. Kristoffer turns up for his first meeting with soot on his forehead for luck. He is completely inept, but fortunately the staff react to him as if he was real; the women want to sleep with him (Hjelje), marry him (Lyhne) or avoid him altogether; the men want to beat him up (Christensen). But even when he casts himself as the hero to Ravn’s villain – in order to push Ravn to confessing the truth – his motivation is mixed. He sees his character as the hero – he – the actor – wants the applause.
The Boss Of It All, coming after Dogville and Manderlay, may feel like a big change (and from my point of view, for the better) but it’s still completely Von Trier.