Direktøren For Det Hele / The Boss of It All
d. Lars von Trier / 2006 / Denmark / 99 mins
Viewed at: Indie Movies Online
The last month or so of study has meant that I’ve slipped behind a little on this here endeavour, but expect a bit of a catch-up session while I’m on a break for the next few weeks. Without further ado, here’s my write-up on that strangest of beasts, a Lars von Trier comedy.
No matter which way you look at it, The Boss of It All is a film about control. A shady company owner hires an actor to play ‘the boss of it all’, using him to mask his own inability to take responsibility for his actions. Before long, the actor has turned on the owner, taking charge of the situation and interfering with the owners plan to sell the company to Icelandic investors. So far so conventional, comedy-wise. But this is a Lars von Trier film, ‘conventional’ isn’t his Danish-English phrasebook…’control’, on the other hand, most certainly is!
In Dogville and Manderlay, the diabolical Dane seemed content to stylise relatively traditional drama within a heavily deconstructed setting – replacing walls with white lines on the floor of a studio back-lot and furnishing scenes with a bare minimum of props, each providing a highly conceptualised setting and enabling a heightened dramatic tension. The Boss of it All represents something of a return to more traditional settings – the action takes place mostly in a bland, unimposing office environment – but this time von Trier plays with the very fabric of narrative structure, disturbing temporal and spatial relationships as much as possible and letting his unobtrusive sets instill a banal pathos which exists in direct opposition to the stylistic, Brechtian sets of the first two films in von Trier’s as-yet-unfinished ‘USA’ trilogy.
And whilst everything that occurs on screen manifests itself as a struggle for control – both personal and political – much the same thing is happening behind the camera. He may be a notorious control-freak but he’s also a notorious player of games, and for The Boss of it All, von Trier has surrendered visual control of the film to a machine (of sorts) via the Automavision process. A kind of bastard child of the 100-Eyes technique used on Dancer in the Dark, Automavision essentially takes all the guess-work out of camera framing, with a computer directing the composition of individual shots. Shooting scenes several times from ever-so-slightly differing angles, von Trier’s real act of control comes during the edit, when the shots are joined across a succession of jump-cuts to rather delirious, disconcerting and invigorating effect.
Of course, there is an element of narrative control here also, with writers and actors coming under particular scrutiny as the ultimate purveyors of control in the cinema (besides the director, of course). Take Gambini – a fictional playwright with whom our actor friend is obsessed, he seems to be some kind of jokey stand-in for von Trier himself, consistently portrayed as a difficult, much-maligned creative figure. And then there are the constant references to the ‘difficulty’ of actors – a none-too-subtle reference to von Trier’s infamous run-ins with Björk and Nicole Kidman.
That’s not to say that the role of director doesn’t come in for some criticism during The Boss of it All, with von Trier reinforcing his general good nature with a barrage of self-inflicted wrath. Indeed, there is a sense here that Lars von Trier is exorcising some semblance of control over his usual enfant terrible impulses, foregrounding his own brand of anti-intellectual intellectualism. Perhaps most telling is the exclamation that “Life is a Dogme film…it’s hard to hear, but the words are still important!”, but the in-jokery begins from the word ‘go’, with a personal introduction from von Trier:
“Here comes a movie, and if it already looks a bit weird – then hang in there because anyone can see it. Although you see my reflection, trust me – this film wont be worth a moments reflection. It’s a comedy, and harmless as such. No preaching or swaying of opinion. Just a cozy time. So why not poke fun at artsy-fartsy culture? So here we have a self-important out-of-work actor – who, by miraculous chance got a job. A very special job.”
Although he has since claimed that the intro was there in order to counter allegations that he is too serious and too political, it’s fairly clear – once again – that Lars von Trier has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. Indeed, The Boss of it All (and – I would argue – every Lars von Trier film before and since) is best summed up by the equally blasé closing sentiments of the man himself:
“And so we reached, on the verge of giving up – the end of our comedy. Like you, I would like to get home, but I’d like to apologize – to those who wanted more and those who wanted less. Those who got what they came for…deserve it.”