Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is The Reviewer of It All.
"He who deals with stooges deals with nobody."
He who deals with Lars Von Trier probably isn't expecting a comedy. To be completely faithful to "The Vow of Chastity" set down by Trier and other filmmakers for the Dogme 95 collective, "genre movies are not acceptable."
He's not following those rules with The Boss of It All (Direktøren for det hele), but he did come up with a new set of rules, as explained in one of the featurettes, appropriately titled "Automavision: The New Set of Rules." This time around, Trier is using a computer to come up with random framing and camera placement.
"In my mind, there's not a lot of logic in framing, but pointing—as we called it—with the camera, there was a lot of logic in that," Trier says. He sounds to me like he's serious. That can, and does, make for an odd-looking picture.
Can you deal with The Boss of It All?
Facts of the Case
Ravn (Peter Gantzler, Operation Cobra) is the boss of his IT firm—but the six founding employees don't know it because he invented "the boss of it all" to make the tough decisions. After all, Ravn wants to be the "teddy bear" his colleagues think he is.
Trouble is, Ravn's selling the company—and the Icelandic buyers want to deal with "the boss of it all." Kristoffer (Jens Albinus, Dancer in the Dark, Ravn's method actor friend, agrees to pose as the mysterious Svend to get the deal done.
When a delay keeps Kristoffer on the job longer than he intended, the employees get to meet "the boss of it all." One—Gorm—even punches him out for starters. "Ravn, they're all completely insane," Kristoffer says. "My character doesn't like it when they cry, shout, or hit."
Kristoffer doesn't like it when his conversations with the employees—and his ex, the lawyer for the buyers—reveal that Ravn didn't tell him the whole truth about the deal. Can "the boss of it all" take charge of this situation?
At first glance, you might find The Boss of It All slow going. Heck, at second and third glance, it'll still be slow. Lars Von Trier wanted it that way.
"Automavision" turned out to be less of a distraction than Lars Von Trier's avoidance of slick Hollywood pacing. Occasionally, Trier tests the limits of Automavision with bits that make it look planned, like one in which a woman sits on a moving desk and slowly rises out of the frame. His choice of offbeat settings, like a movie theater or the zoo, for key discussions also gives The Boss of It All a natural look.
Automavision seems designed to make viewers pay attention by giving them a feeling that there's more activity in the background than there is.
And is a worker punching out the boss during a routine meeting a slap in the face to Dogme 95, which bans "superficial action"?
There's nothing fancy about the presentation, but IFC Films makes sure you get the complete Automavision experience in The Transfer of It All.
Now what about The Substance of It All?
"Although you see my reflection, trust me, this film won't be worth a moment's reflection. It's a comedy, and harmless as such. No preaching or swaying of opinion. Just a cozy time," Von Trier says in his opening narration. Doesn't he sound a bit like Mark Twain to you? Like Samuel Clemens, Von Trier definitely has a point of view, and he's going to give you time to reflect on it.
If you take the time to check out The Boss of It All, you'll notice some sharp dialogue, with lines like, "I figured the office would be a safer bet than the corridors." Bits such as the one in which an employee starts questioning Kristoffer about "what we do," only to have the uninformed "boss of it all" turn the question around on him, start to form a satirical picture. The slower pace gives viewers the time to take it all in, and let it float around in their minds.
Until the last five minutes or so, there weren't any laugh-out-loud moments, but there are a lot of droll lines to smile at—and I started to care what happens to the company and its people. Jens Albinus plays Kristoffer with heart and comic silliness. His comic timing in the final scene, in which he makes the big decision through method acting, is impeccable.
The Extras of It All may be a disappointment or a blessing, depending on your sense of humor. After the "Automavision" primer, the two remaining "real" extras—featuring interviews with Trier and his cast—are short and not that informative, even repeating information. Two "mockumentaries," which spoof the rituals of these behind-the-scenes looks, are included. A typical exchange in "The Actors (And The Journalist) of It All" finds Peter Gentzler talking about his psychic bonds with his colleagues, followed by Jens Albinus claming that Gentzler "is a very, very sick man." Albinus, in turn, goes on to say that, "The weather in my garden hasn't been the same since" The Boss of It All was made. It goes on this way for around 28 minutes total in the two mockumentaries.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Slow going is slow going. No matter how great the payoff is, if you don't want to wade through the arrhythmic comic pacing, it's very understandable.
HDTV fans will be disappointed by the "matted widescreen" picture, since that translates to non-anamorphic.
There's a certain irony in using Automavision for The Boss of It All. Lars Von Trier gives up his own decision-making responsibility to the computer as he does a movie about a boss who stands behind a stand-in. That made me consider the possibility that actors are the put-upon stand-ins for directors, making The Boss of It All a metaphor for the moviemaking process. As Dogme formed a new genre, perhaps Automavision will form a new genre of movies about indecisive people.
Although he embraced randomness here, Trier seems to have made exactly the movie he wanted. Is that a success or a failure for Automavision?
Despite evidence of moviemaking aforethought, randomness guru Lars Von Trier is acquitted. Still, approach with caution if you don't want "a moment's reflection" with your laughs.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• "The Actors (And The Journalist) of It All" Mockumentary
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