The Boss of It All

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

PALM SPRINGS -- Taking a break between the second and third installments of his "USA: Land of Opportunities" trilogy, Lars von Trier goes for the jocular in "The Boss of It All," a slight and sprightly bit of fun that's not, however, without teeth. The Danish writer-director concocts a sort of Scandi "Office," gathering an able and willing ensemble for what he drolly describes in introductory voice-over as "a comedy, and harmless as such." It's also a delight. The film screened recently at the Palm Springs festival and is scheduled for limited stateside release in May, when it's sure to attract the von Trier faithful.

Avoiding the overt social commentary of the director's most recent work, "Boss" is perhaps closest in focus to "The Five Obstructions," his 2003 docu on the filmmaking process, in which von Trier played a devilishly entertaining game of one-upmanship with director Jorgen Leth. Here he casts a prankster's eye on actorly affectations, the director-actor relationship and the conventions of throwaway entertainment, all while lampooning the collective delusions of corporate culture.

The wonderful Jens Albinu (who starred in von Trier's 1998 comic drama "The Idiots") plays Kristoffer, an actor hired by businessman Ravn (Peter Gantzler) to play the owner of an IT company -- not onstage, but in the boardroom. During negotiations with Icelandic entrepreneur Finnur (Fridrik Thor Fridriksson), who wants to buy the firm, Kristoffer injects meaningful pauses into his "line readings" that all but stop the dealmaking cold. The perpetually unamused Finnur is convinced that all Danes are wacko. He doesn't know the half of it.

Wanting only to be loved, Ravn, a handsome and affable bear of a man, has for 10 years hidden his true status as the company's owner, pretending to be just another manager and inventing via e-mail a distant uberboss named Svend. Earnest thespian Kristoffer steps into the role with almost no "direction" from Ravn, variously dodging and playing along with the projected dreams and hostilities of the staff. Gorm (Casper Christensen) is given to violent outbursts, Mette (Louise Mieritz) is terrified whenever the copier whirs into action, assistant Heidi (Mia Lyhne) harbors deep feelings for Svend, while HR rep Lise (Iben Hjejle) not only encourages office sex but insists on it. Actor and Dogme filmmaking disciple Jean-Marc Barr plays a foreign employee who insists on speaking bungled and indecipherable Danish.

Determined to stay true to his "character," Kristoffer continually invokes one Antonio Stavro Gambini, the playwright he reveres above all others. Ravn, for reasons that become increasingly clear, prefers to keep things on the buzzword level, as vague as possible. Kristoffer hits his stride with some table-turning improv involving contracts.

The understated comic performances serve the material well, while Automavision, the credited cinematographer, keeps things aptly off-center with random computer-automated camera angles -- one of which von Trier calls to our attention as a "pointless zoom."

THE BOSS OF IT ALL
IFC Films/IFC First Take
A Zentropa Entertainments 21/Memfis Film Intl./Slot Machine/Lucky Red production
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Lars von Trier
Producers: Meta Louise Foldager, Vibeke Windelov, Signe Jensen
Executive producers: Lene Borglum, Peter Albaek Jensen
Director of photography: Automavision
Costume designer: Manon Rasmussen
Editor: Molly Malene Stensgaard
Cast:
Kristoffer: Jens Albinus
Ravn: Peter Gantzler
Finnur: Fridrik Thor Fridriksson
Lise: Iben Hjejle
Mette: Louise Mieritz
Heidi A.: Mia Lyhne
Gorm: Casper Christensen
Spencer: Jean-Marc Barr
Interpreter: Benedikt Erlingsson.
Running time -- 100 minutes
No MPAA rating
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