Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: It’s five days of Lars Von Trier, as we single out some of the Danish director’s more unheralded triumphs in honor of his latest, Nymphomaniac.
The Boss Of It All (2006)
Lars Von Trier always premieres his films at Cannes. Over the course of his 30-year career, there have been only three exceptions. One is The Five Obstructions, which was mostly directed by Jørgen Leth, though Von Trier gets a co-directing credit. Another is his new film, Nymphomaniac, which he probably chose not to take to Cannes because of the brouhaha that occurred during his last visit, when he stupidly expressed a degree of sympathy for Adolf Hitler. But the true, notable exception is 2006’s The Boss Of It All, which premiered at the tiny Copenhagen Film Festival. Unlike Von Trier’s other films, which are all insanely ambitious—each title a major event—The Boss Of It All is a small, unassuming office comedy, with so much conventional appeal that Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of Arrested Development, was at one time planning an American remake. Indeed, if not for the bizarre manner in which it was shot, it would be difficult to identify as Von Trier’s work, even though it’s every bit as intelligent and creative as the rest.
The plot is as high-concept as any he’s ever devised. (He also wrote the screenplay, as usual.) For many years, Ravn (Peter Gantzler), the head of a Danish tech company, has pretended to report to a superior who lives in the U.S., blaming any potentially unpopular decisions on this imaginary figurehead in order to remain well liked by the staff. Now, however, he wants to sell the company, and the Icelandic buyers insist on meeting the fake boss, forcing Ravn to hire an actor (Jens Albinus) to play him. Unforeseen circumstances force the charade to go on much longer than anticipated, with increasingly uproarious results; though Von Trier hadn’t previously shown any particular flair for comedy (with the possible exception, depending on one’s own sensibility, of The Idiots), he gives The Boss Of It All a classically farcical structure, gradually escalating the misunderstandings and mayhem with metronomic precision.
For some reason, he also chose to shoot the entire film using a weird automated camera system that adjusts various settings at random, resulting in shots that cut off actors’ heads or leave them out of focus. This is more of a goofy distraction than anything else, but it does prove that even deliberately bad filmmaking can’t get in the way of a first-rate script performed by a capable cast. Maybe that was the experiment Von Trier intended—you can never really tell with that guy. In any case, tossing off a smaller, less ambitious film that wouldn’t fit in at Cannes is something he should probably do more often. Even his divertissements are more impressive than most directors’ ostensible masterworks.
Availability: The Boss Of It All is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant Video.