Taking a break between poststructuralist slave drama Manderlay and the embittered, genitalia-snipping horror movie Antichrist, Danish provocateur Lars von Trier released this no-budget Danish movie The Boss of it All (Direktøren for det hele, på dansk). With a stripped down, quasi-Dogme aesthetic, and some of the best actors Denmark has on offer, this return to roots screwball sitcom instantly recalls the various incarnations of BBC’s The Office. It’s an intentionally lighthearted, but ultimately forgettable blip in this prodigious filmmaker’s erratic career.
Opening without a title sequence, we are greeted by the warm, nasally voice of Lars himself. Talking to the audience through speech, whilst we see his reflection in the window of the office building he is shooting, our humble narrator outlines that the following film will be “an unpretentious ‘hygge’ movie (the most untranslatable Danish word, roughly meaning cosy, fun and/or sexy)”. In his typical, tongue-in-cheek manner, he continues to say that the film won’t take up much of our brainpower, or require any afterthought. It’s a bold, anti-artistic opening gambit, stolen first from Godard, and used previously in LvT’s overlooked TV series Riget (The Kingdom, på engelsk). However, being the notoriously dubious filmmaker that he is, we’re instantly questioning his intentions. There’s no way LvT could make a flippant film about nothing, is there?
Following the prologue, we meet out players. With his dwindling company on the verge of being sold, meek businessman Ravn (Peter Rantzler – Italian for Beginners, In China they Eat Dogs) hires the hapless method actor Kristoffer (played brilliantly by Jens Albinus – Dancer in the Dark, The Idiots) to pose as the previously unseen CEO, ready to sign the final payoff and break the news to the company’s employees. It’s a bonkers idea, played out in typical slapstick fashion, with Kristoffer trying to ‘find’ his character, with his reticent stares leading to bust-ups, marriage proposals, and ‘over the ergonomic office table’ bonks.
Far from being a two horse race, Trier’s script gives space for the ancillary characters to shine, but only insofar as Danish stereotypes will allow. There’s the earthy Jutland farm boy Gorm (Casper Christensen), the red-blooded saleswoman Lise (Iben Hjele) and the hot-headed Finnish tycoon buying up the company (Friðrik þór Friðriksson). Also of note is the stunning Sofie Gråbøl as the contract attorney sealing the deal, and currently whipping Guardian readers into a frenzy as Sarah Lund in Danish crime series Forbrydelsen, aka The Killing.
Whilst I wasn’t thrilled by this one-dimensional farce, there is some depth behind all the levity and, ‘how’s your father’ dalliance. With Kristoffer trying so desperately to flesh out the boss of it all character, mixed with Ravn’s downplayed subservience, it’s an allegory on the relationship between filmmaker and performer. Known for being such a difficult, resolute, and allegedly tear-inducing taskmaster, Lars von Trier’s The Boss of it All is wryly telling everybody to lighten up. It’s only a movie, after all.