Office politics — Danish style
The Boss of It All (2006, 99 minutes, 13+)
The Boss of It All, an off-kilter workplace comedy new on DVD, comes as a surprise from director Lars von Trier, one of cinema ’s great experimentalists best known for switching between technically dazzling mind-benders and stripped-down melodramas made with nothing more than actors and a camera. No one would have expected what might be called the Danish version of TV ’s The Office from him, or that it would be so funny.
Ravn (Peter Gantzler), the owner of a small IT company, enjoys being the nice guy so much that he can ’t bring himself to admit that he’s actually the boss. Pretending to be just another put-upon employee, he’s invented an absentee higher-up, “the boss of it all,” to blame for all of his unpopular decisions, while he goes around suggesting group hugs and singing ditties to cheer up his “co-workers.”
When the time comes for Ravn to sell the company, he hires an out-of-work actor, Kristoffer (Jens Albinus), to play the boss for his prospective buyer. But the ruse spills out into the office halls and pretty soon Kristoffer finds himself playing the role for a group of eccentric (to say the least) employees who, having been manipulated by a phantom boss for so long, all have an axe to grind. He leaves his first meeting with a bloody nose.
Von Trier shot the film in a process he dubbed “Automavision” which apparently has a computer making all camera framing decisions. This leads to a film full of jump cuts that frequently seems to be looking at either the wrong character or, if an actor moves out of frame, nothing at all. It ’s an odd, almost indefensible experiment; even odder is that it works.
Between the seemingly random editing and some delirious wordplay by an inspired cast, the film has an energy that one-ups the mock-documentary style of The Office (with which this film shares a lot of uncomfortable silences). At its best, it offers the sensation of actually being in the conference room, desperately waiting for someone to say something to cut the tension. It ’s not so different from being stuck in a real office, but a whole lot funnier.
So, while stylistically exhausting and perhaps not the sharpest workplace satire out there, The Boss of It All manages to get away with everything it asks of us. Because, much like Ravn with his abused employees, it ’s just so darn charming.