Having long seemed to be either sticking out his tongue or wagging a finger between patches of brilliance, Danish punk-moralist Lars von Trier lightens up and almost grows up with “The Boss of It All,” a workplace comedy. Representing a tonal shift from his worthy but oppressive “Dogville” and “Manderlay,” the movie isn’t quite the mix of screwball trifle and wicked satire that von Trier may be aiming for. But it’s sufficiently witty and entertaining to constitute notable art-house fare.
This “film won’t cause you more than a moment’s reflection,” says its occasional narrator, von Trier himself, ever in control as he explains the movie’s status as comedy. Those words are hooey, of course. Von Trier light is more severe than most Hollywood tragedy, and this movie, a farce about the abuse of power, abounds with plot and message.
The Denmark-set story involves a ruse created by an IT business owner named Ravn (Peter Gantzler), who, to maintain his loyal staff’s approval, has blamed the firm’s worker-unfriendly policies on an overseas superior, “Svend,” whom he’s fabricated. When Finnur (Thor Fridriksson), the humorless Dane-hating Icelander to whom Ravn plans to sell the company, demands that Svend appear in person, Ravn hires an actor, Kristoffer (Jens Albinus), to portray the honcho.
Complications arise when Kristoffer plays his role with more earnestness than Ravn bargained for. Kristoffer/Svend gets closely acquainted with Ravn’s “senior six” and sympathizes with these employees after learning that Ravn intends to betray them when he sells the firm. Will Svend sabotage Ravn’s scheme?
Von Trier, who cites Hollywood comedies like “Bringing Up Baby” as influences, lacks the froth chromosome that is necessary to make the film sparkle as such. Seemingly born with an arty-shaky camera in his heavy hand — or, in this case, employing a randomizing computer-controlled camera system called Automavision — the Dogme co-founder is too stringent to pull off material such as a bumpkin staffer who communicates with his fists.
But lightness still suits von Trier, and the film contains an amusing story, an IQ that justifies the characters’ talkiness, and, as always where von Trier is concerned, something to say and an original way of saying it.
The Boss of It All ***
Starring Jens Albinus, Peter Gantzler, Iben Hjejle, Thor Fridriksson
Written and directed by Lars von Trier
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes