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Lars von Trier's The Boss of It All

Von Trier’s characterizations are similarly lacking. Could this be the same man who played puppet master to the unforgettable communities of The Idiots and Dogville, populated with hot-blooded representatives of jealousy, nobility, authority, ignorance and sex? Here the IT firm is a collection of one-note jokes that never acquire life or even the freakish specialties of well-used role players. The Six Seniors are comprised of a manic-depressive whose explosions of violence are preceded with cryptic warnings like “Autumn is muggy”; a woman prone to crying jags; a man who must be lifted by his fingers in order to get up from his seat; and a no-nonsense blonde convinced that Kristoffer is gay seduces him to prove her sexual power. None of these quirks are convincing; von Trier seems uninterested in exploring the relationships and alliances forged in the pressure cooker of a corporate setting. The Seniors’ wacky foibles instead seem to be part of a strategy to infantilize the modern firm — Kristoffer and Ravn’s secret meetings take place in locations (a zoo, a merry-go-round, a movie theater where Ravn devours a popsicle) that have them acting like little kids in the glee of a private conspiracy, peppered as it is with mutual antagonism. But this is old hat — the cult classic Office Space and innumerable sitcoms, including The Office, have all made the same point with far less dead time, and without von Trier’s gimmick of Automavision, a cinematographic technique in which shots are randomly selected by a computer program. The separate shots generated by Automavision aren’t so notable, but the editing of them is. Cutting away with every new line of dialogue, the film’s rhythm is impedingly choppy and — I say this for the first time as a critic — literally headache-inducing.

The only thing The Boss of It All might be good for is another von Trier investigation into the way theatrical performance enters reality and alters it beyond the safe confines of make-believe. This was the premise of The Idiots, a funnier film bursting with the tense excitement of true danger. The Boss of It All aims for the same stakes when Kristoffer gets so deep into his role that he convinces himself only his character, and not his person, can determine the fate of the company: whether it should be sold to the Icelanders and whether the Six Seniors will be driven out of their jobs. But the teetering decision — art over ethics? — fails to achieve the same grandeur or significance as von Trier’s previously devastating coups de Grace (think Dogville’s powerhouse crusher). For one, we know what’s coming (what would a von Trier film be without an ironic denouement?). And two, we don’t care. Whereas the conflict of The Idiots reflected its director’s battle with the limits of his art (and those of Dogme 95), the conflict of The Boss of It All hinges on nothing substantial. The fate of the company never matters to us, and since the end is so predictably predetermined, Kristoffer’s injection of improvisation into the scripted world of the corporation is about as meaningful as an off-kilter Automavision-selected shot.

And so Boss ends with von Trier once more addressing the audience, telling us we won’t even remember this trifle of a film after we leave. He’s right, but for all the wrong reasons. As disappointing as it would have been, von Trier could have made a straight comedy to counter the weightiness of his USA Trilogy. While it’s nice to see him momentarily abandon his “big black buck” phase (the von Trier-penned Dear Wendy and Manderlay, which proved he doesn’t know a thing about race relations in America), von Trier can’t simply jettison his other thematic obsessions so easily. The Boss of It All, then, is a comedy in search of a lesson, one in search of a suitable method, just as Kristoffer is in search of a character to assert his vanity. If The Boss of It All is forgettable, it’s not for its airiness, but for its failed artiness, and for von Trier’s failure to be true to his art.



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