I recently watched Lars Von Trier’s latest film, The Boss of It All, which is currently enjoying a limited theatrical release courtesy of IFC First Take. I’m admittedly a big fan of Von Trier’s work, and this film has sort of snuck up on everyone, presumably even the filmmaker himself. It’s a small, workplace comedy of errors. It’s not a morose epic, like his last two features: the masterful Dogville and the tedious Manderlay.
Instead, Von Trier’s latest is an unexpectedly amusing and brisk 95 minutes of inner-office Danish comedy. Even Von Trier himself realizes what a departure this is for the infamously cranky auteur, by serving as the “voice of God,” revealing to the audience the ways in which Boss of It All fits into the comedy genre. And, as an exercise in comedy, he’s very successful.
The premise is simple: a Danish office manager (Peter Gantzler) hires an earnest theater actor named Kristoffer (Jens Albinus) to portray the company boss in order to quietly facilitate said company’s acquisition by an Icelandic businessman. Things don’t work out right away with the acquisition, so the actor must make himself comfortable in the office he supposedly owns, in front of an unwitting staff who obviously have never met their mysterious leader. Kristoffer must try to keep the secret while running the office, until the acquisition finally comes through. From there, Von Trier inserts a few twists but the whole experience is a fairly breezy affair.
Unlike his last few films, Von Trier doesn’t appear determined to make any broad social statements with this film. If you really wanted to dig, maybe there’s some parallel between international politics, and the insertion of a phony leader into a failing company. I would rather think that Von Trier just needed to tackle something lighter in the middle of his uneven “USA Trilogy” of bleakness (which have included the aforementioned Dogville and Manderlay). And while the impressive Boss of It All is without question the funniest and sweetest film Von Trier has made, fans of Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s still Von Trier, still his bleak visual aesthetic (only now the blue hues of an office get his murky exposure), his harsh sexual commentary, and his protagonist seeking salvation from the kindness of strangers. Only this time, you laugh more. Intentionally. Here’s to Von Trier depressing us all again very soon, but I’m happy he decided to take a quick detour on the way.