Lars Von Trier has been a favourite director of mine since I became aware of him during my college studies. From his early stylish Europe trilogy to Dogme 95 and his recent critique on America with Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005), Von Trier has provided constant critical buzz with his crusade for cinematic originality and the exposure of the darker side of humanity. Although until recently all of his films have plumbed the depths of despair and cynicism, there is a playfulness to Von Trier's personality that made it no surprise to hear about his comedy feature in the wings. After the mischievous nature of The Five Obstructions (2003) it seems like a natural progression for him to tackle a comedy at some point. That said I was still dubious. To see one of your favourite directors partake in a foreign genre to his other work can be unnerving, and I was apprehensive Trier would break a career long stretch of excellent work.
What I received with The Boss Of It All was something different yet distinctly Lars Von Trier. The film opens with a crane shot of an office building, the camera noticeably reflected in the glass, with a voice-over by Trier cheekily introducing the film. This start immediately breaks down the wall between filmmaker and audience visually, in the self aware method of Godard, the voice-over introducing the filmmaker directly into the film. This gives Trier a chance to both reassure fans in establishing a tongue-in-cheek tone (not unlike his appearances at the end of every episode of Riget) and throw off any sense of genre conformity from the off. When we enter into the world of the film and are introduced to the characters, we see Trier discarding snipes at the U.S. for a satirical look at corporate Denmark and the office environment. It is a subject matter that transcends cultural boundaries, and although it has been said to be a very Danish film anyone familiar with working in an office can appreciate The Boss Of It All.
The boss of a successful I.T. company too cowardly to admit to being the 'boss of it all' to his staff enlists a stage actor for the role of the fictional boss for a deal in which the company director must be present. The plan backfires, leaving the hapless actor and wimpish boss to pretend to the unfriendly and unpredictable staff that this actor is indeed the head of the company.
* Spoilers over *
Our comedic protagonist Kristoffer is none other than 'Stoffer' from The Idiots (Idioterne), Jens Albinus. He plays this role of disillusioned stage actor as perfectly as his unhinged leader in The Idiots, with a penchant for humour Von Trier gleefully exploits at every opportunity. Peter Gantzler is also great as Ravn, the cowardly and ultimately calculated real boss, and the other supporting roles of the staff are all fantastic, with High Fidelity's lovely Iben Hjejle performance showing the rewards of her time in Hollywood. The script is fresh and real, the absurdity of the situation never tipping the balance of believability, and it will please fans to know that as much fun this movie is there is still the building unease and confrontation with human weakness and immorality one recognises as Lars von Trier thematic staples. It is clear with The Boss Of It All that Lars Von Trier's considerable gift extends to the comedy genre without a hitch, his knowledge of the language of film, no matter the genre, enables him to create impassioned and valid work whatever the subject.
This is not to say it is a perfect film, I believe the imperfections and experimentalism of Von Trier's work are what makes him a fascinating filmmaker, the addition of a computer camera shot randomiser called Automavision (more on this below) will no doubt have its (quite plausibly) valid skeptics. But The Boss Of It All remains a surprisingly refreshing departure from the cynical world normally created in Von Trier's films. Saying that, I still cant wait for Wasington!
A clean 1.85:1 transfer with solid contrast and good detail, let down by being a letterboxed rather than an anamorphic print, dramatically reducing the line resolution on widescreen TVs, which aren't exactly rarities any more. Colour appears to be true to life, the slight blue bias to some scenes down mainly to production design and costume choices.
The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack may be on the basic side in the days of DTS surround mixes, but it does the job in a film with no music score and functional sound effects, with the dialogue always clear.
The English subtitles are burned-in.
A rather feeble set of extras contain interviews and behind the scenes (9:52), which is the best of the three feature-related extras. There are short interviews with cast members and Von Trier himself intercut with some on set footage. The cast dispel the myth of Von Trier as a tyrannical director, but show some irritation in his Automavision shooting technique. Von Trier himself gives clear and concise answers to the questions posed, it's just a shame this feature was not at least a little longer.
There is also a text feature about the Automavision technique stating it is "a principle for shooting film developed with the intention of limiting human influence by inviting chance in from the cold," whereby a computer is fed details of the cinematagraphic choices and provides a list of random and minimal alternatives for Von Trier to use instead. This was the case with sound as well and was regimented in every shot. Slightly over the top for the average auteur, but not for our lovably anal Lars!
The third feature concerning the film is a laughably insubstantial Gallery comprising of only five photographs, all on set.
There is also a short film on here which is apparently a feature on all Diffusion Pictures' releases. The Sickie is a British fourteen minute short in keeping with the office theme. Its actually quite a nice complimentary piece to The Boss Of It All and certainly deserves disc space a lot more than a woeful gallery and a piece of text. Once again a good film sadly done no justice by it's DVD package. A must for Lars Von Trier followers and a damn good comedy for the average cinephile!