Director Lars von Trier abandons the subtext and aims for fun

Back when provocauteur extraordinaire Lars von Trier was making the cleverly complex Zentropa (1991) and his epically deranged hospital series The Kingdom (1994) one of his greatest assets was a curious playfulness and whimsy: the retarded hospital dishwashing narrators of The Kingdom for example and the magical multiple exposures that both split and merged dreams and reality in Zentropa. It seems he reached his peak with the simultaneous fusion and dismissal of his legendary 1995 Dogme esthetics in the Bjork-starring Dancer in the Dark (2000) a film that brilliantly displayed the power of individual dreams to overcome reality (and realism). For while he remains a uniquely popular artist the Danish bard recently abandoned his epically satirical “USA: Land of Opportunities” trilogy (Dogville Manderlay and the unproduced finale Wasington). Which all suggests that a comedy like The Boss of It All is the last thing anyone expected from von Trier. Indeed in the prologue he even shows up on screen suggesting the film is nothing really meaningful — it’s a comedy after all he reminds us. And though this cheekiness is high on his filmmaker checklist it’s also a weird bit of self-deprecation even for him. The story itself begins with hard-bargaining Icelanders demanding the boss of a Danish IT company (Peter Gantzler) present his until-now completely fabricated senior executive live and in person to seal a deal. Naturally the real boss turns to an unemployed actor (Jens Albinus) to play the part. Employees find their new boss a bit slow on the uptake but are soon eager to do his bidding — at work and play. However when the actor discovers that the real boss is actually using this deal to effectively sell the company leaving its faithful employees jobless in the process he makes a stand to reveal the truth and challenge the sale. Technically as with most von Trier films Boss involves an intriguing experiment using a self-developed software program called Automavision to allow a computer to act as camera operator free to zoom based on its own binary perceptions of a scene. Unfortunately this technologically advanced return to his fundamental Dogme principals — including jumpy camerawork and compromised editing — furthers unflattering comparisons to the carefully measured corporate satire of Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant’s The Office. While the classic von Trier themes are there — sexually repressed women successful yet impotent men and bellowing Scandinavian neighbours — and taking the film at von Trier’s suggested level of lightness is an enjoyable experience if you’re searching for his trademark social commentary you’ll have to wait (at least) until his next project.