This Week in Film: July 13, 2007

The Boss of It All

REVIEW: Lars von Trier is a funny guy -- albeit of the darkly mordant and sardonic type. Remember the outrageous conclusion to Dogville where Nicole Kidman goes on an all-out murder spree; even killing babies in the interim? The mad brat of Danish cinema returns with a new film called The Boss of It All, and right after the opening title-card, the voice of von Trier, as acerbic and guiltlessly pompous as ever, makes it plainly clear: "this is a comedy, and is harmless as such." That said, the film is more Beckettian in tone than, say... the Farrelly brothers. So we expect it to be dry and slightly contemptuous towards humanity (oh, but wait, that sorta applies to Dumb and Dumber too; never mind). And also, if you're anticipating a rolling joke-count, you'll be forcing yourself to laugh -- it's not that kind of comedy.

The setting is a small but sterile-looking IT company in Copenhagen, which we automatically expect themes of anomie and complacency a la Office Space to be central. Fortunately, von Trier isn't into easy-pickings, he's got bigger fish to fry (like American culture). Thus, the setting doesn't really stand in to represent the post-tech bubble zeitgeist, as much as it seems like von Trier is deriving perverse pleasure in watching people destroy one another in confined spaces. Kafka would be proud.

The premise of the film is brilliantly absurd: the company's actual boss does not exist, so when the owner of the company decides to sell all its assets to an Icelandic businessman, he hires an out-of-work actor to stand in as a surrogate boss; tasking the reluctant, somewhat clueless thespian to do all the nasty executive things like firing employees. And with a dash of sex and violence thrown in for good measure, our cinema of cruelty maestro reminds us in his intermittent god voice: "this film won't be worth a moment's reflection." My reading of that: I'm better than the characters in this movie.

Backing up my presumption, von Trier says in the press notes, "Danes love to hear that they are stupid. Maybe it's that this is small country and the people are quite masochistic. They loved it in The Kingdom when people talked about the stupid Danes. Here, when the Icelandic people scream at them and say all these nasty things, they really love it."

As we know, Dogme 95 (von Trier's vow of cinematic chastity) has officially ended, although its oppressive influence, for better or worse, can still be felt. So now what? Introducing Automavision (yes, it's a registered trademark too), the shooting concept for The Boss of It All. Apparently, von Trier and his cinematographer hooked up cameras to a computer system that randomly composed the shots. The results look like someone (the cinematographer?) haphazardly threw a bunch of cameras across the room, with disregard for wherever they landed, and pushed RED on a remote control, hoping for happy accidents. Forget the rule of thirds, people, we get heads cut off, non-matching eye-lines, inconsistent colour-timings, etc. Is von Trier letting stupid machines direct stupid people?

I admire the experiment (call it anti-cinema or whatever), but I don't think it's a very successful one. However, von Trier is still -- above maddening -- a fascinating filmmaker and my excitement for his work is always enthusiastic. The Boss of It All is a curio in the auteur's oeuvre (similar to other divergent films like Soderbergh's Full Frontal and P.T. Anderson's Punch Drunk Love), it represents a simple creative itch that needs to be scratched and gotten over with. Ambitious it's not; personal, odd, and unique, it's there in spades.

Also Opening This Week:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Introducing the Dwights

(Photo: Courtesy of IFC Films)

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