The Boss Of It All
Given his reputation for dour, misanthropic polemics, one does not reasonably expect light-hearted comedy from Lars von Trier. He seems to be aware of this — he appears in the opening scene of The Boss Of It All to assure the viewer that what they are about to see is "a comedy, and harmless." He is, of course, totally full of shit. Sure, the movie is funny and not anywhere near as heavy as anything else he's directed in the past ten years, but von Trier's office farce nevertheless betrays his rather grim and cynical outlook on humanity.
As the film begins, an office manager hires a pretentious stage actor to play the part of his company's CEO when an Icelandic mogul intent on buying the company insists upon his presence when signing off the required paperwork. However, "the boss of it all" has always been entirely fictional — the manager is in fact the owner of the business, and he created the character as a convenient scapegoat in an attempt to indefinitely avoid conflict with his employees. Hijinks ensue: The manager has neglected to properly inform the actor of his numerous conflicting lies, and so he's forced to improvise in ways that only end up humiliating him and alienating the workers. The actor is vain and delusional, and his obsession with a mad Italian playwright fuels his eagerness to remain believable in his part no matter how much he does to inadvertently demolish his own credibility.
Even though von Trier swears that he has never seen an episode of The Office, the film can't but resemble Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's sitcom franchise on a superficial level. Likewise, the dilemma of his lead elaborates on an undeveloped yet key theme at the core of Gervais' David Brent character: Management as a perverse form of performance. Both projects arrive at more or less the same point — authority figures are not meant to please or entertain their subordinates, but cowards in executive positions will do most anything to play a part in order to retain their power and save themselves the trouble of actually doing their own dirty work.
The avoidance of conflict is common to office politics around the world, but von Trier is primarily concerned with how that milieu highlights the meek character of his Danish countrymen. The only Danish character who ever snaps out of a default passivity is a mustachioed ex-farm boy named Gorm, who erupts into brief, hilarious fits of violence twice in the film before abruptly reverting to a state of inert submission. This is contrasted with the fiery, openly antagonistic antics of the Icelandic businessman, who refuses to let go of his grudge against the Danish for their rule of his people for 400 years, and berates the leads with profanities when he learns of their malfeasance.
Like all of von Trier's projects, The Boss Of It All is the product of a formal experiment. This time around, he shot the film using a program that essentially acted as a computerized cinematographer. The results are choppy and odd, and often quite unattractive. Images suddenly disappear from the frame or haphazardly cut away from the action, lending the film a somewhat jarring appearance that mostly seems like an experiment that has little to do with the actual content of the piece.