After the tedious sabre-rattling of Manderlay and his increasingly big-budget casts, Lars von Trier surprises yet again with a low-budget comedy in the tradition of The Office (although the director claims not to have seen the show). Funny, moving and incisive, The Boss of It All shows that von Trier has a great grasp of comedy and the absurdity of modern life. Arguably the ridiculous situations in many of his other films wouldn’t have taken much to tip into comedy, but here he generates genuine laugh-out-loud moments through great character creation. It’s quite a deft sitcom set-up – the boss of a company has spent the last five years pretending he’s another employee to get his colleagues to like him. Now that he’s about to sell the company for millions and sack them all, he hires an actor to be the mysterious boss they think they’ve never met. A terrific cast handle the mechanics of this satire with great aplomb, including dogme veterans Jean-Marc Barr (director of dogme#5 The Lovers and star of The Big Blue) and Peter Gantzler (dogme#12 – Italian for Beginners).
It’s tempting to call the style of this new film ‘dogme06’ but although the filmmaking principles utilised here could be seen as even more liberating than the rules set out in the original manifesto, I doubt many other directors will take up this technique. The Boss of It All was shot using von Trier’s computer-controlled system ‘Automavision’, whereby a computer moves the camera randomly within a 20-degree angle of the direction it’s pointed. This footage is then cut into shots of around five seconds in length. It’s not clear if the cutting was also carried out by the computer, but if so it must be well-attuned to human speech patterns as it never cuts in the middle of a sentence.
There’s no white balance or concession to continuity, so the colour and exposure within a section may vary wildly from shot to shot, adding a lunatic Ed Wood quality to the aesthetic. This is not to say that the computer doesn’t occasionally choose a pleasing angle, in the same way a four-year-old handling their first camera might. This technique becomes annoying on occasion but forces the viewer to ignore the camerawork and concentrate on the direction, the script and the performances. After Manderlay and Dear Wendy, this is von Trier’s best screenplay in years, though his own appearance as omniscient narrator book-ending the film is slightly unnecessary – yes we all know how clever he is. Just to rub salt in the wounds, von Trier mocks the dogme movement itself by satirising actors and improvisation, but he’s a filmmaker at the top of his game and when he’s making comedies like this we can forgive his arrogance.
The Boss of It All isn’t a film that will gain great renown for its technical, directorial or textual innovations, but if von Trier feels that doing a small film like this will recharge his creative batteries before mounting the next grand folly, this is a fine amuse-bouche, and an easier watch than many of his previous films.