I'm not sure if Lars von Trier's new film, The Boss of it All, is intended to follow strict Dogme dogma, but it doesn't seem to. The very first thing we see is the director himself, rising up on a camera dolly outside of the office building where the action will take place, introducing the film to the audience and giving us an overview of what we're about to see. That would seem to be a violation of both rule number six, discouraging superficiality, and rule number ten, advising against crediting the director. Whatever the philosophy, though, the film is a success, a refreshing change from the ponderous 'Grace trilogy' of which the third part, Wasington, has apparently been shelved pending either a script rewrite or Nicole Kidman's recommitment to the main role. With The Boss of it All, von Trier turns his attention back to his own side of the Atlantic and finds his faith in humanity just as lacking, and his comic timing as sharp as its ever been. The Danish subtitles do nothing to slow down the laughs.
We begin inside the office building, with a non-disclosure agreement being signed between two men, one a smiling corporate suit, Ravn (Peter Gantzler) and the other an actor, Kristoffer, (Jens Albinus) who is clearly down on his luck. It turns out that Ravn wants to hire Kristoffer to play the titular 'boss of it all' -- the fictional head of the company of which Ravn is a director. Up until now, Ravn has been telling his increasingly disgruntled employees that the real decision maker of the company -- the guy they should be angry at, instead of him -- is this 'boss' who is running things from far away in the U.S. Now Ravn is on the verge of selling his company for a big profit, but the buyer understandably insists on meeting this much talked-about 'boss' and having him show up to sign the papers himself. The buyer is a bitter, stone-faced Icelander, while Kristoffer is a blubbery Danish softy who, owing to his profession, is given to long-winded speeches, as opposed to getting down to business.
Adding to the difficulty of Kristoffer's performance is the fact that Ravn hasn't exactly given a solid performance of his own -- over the years, he's given his workers various and conflicting portraits of the fictional 'boss,' all of which will come crashing into each other when he now arrives in the real world, in the form of Kristoffer. One of the workers, Lise, (Iben Hjejle) was randomly told by Ravn that the boss was homosexual, so the attraction vibes she begins to receive from Kristoffer set off alarm bells. von Trier winds his way through all the complications with skill and grace, setting up moment after moment when the characters have the opportunity to rise to some standard of decency, but fail to do so. That applies especially to Kristoffer, who the film sets up as a sort of Shakespearean fool who might have some kind of wildly out-of-place moral center, but instead he turns out to be more vacuous than Ravn, owing most of his decision-making to the acting philosophies of an obscure methodist called Gambini.
During his opening soliloquy to the viewer, von Trier announces that what we're about to see is only a 'harmless' comedy and promises that during this film he will make no effort at a 'swaying of opinion' -- that effort to remain neutral extends to the creation of an entirely new method of cinematography, which he calls Automavision. The idea is to basically allow the camera operation of the film to be done by computer. The director chooses what he considers to be the best camera position, and then programs a computer to choose its own tilting, turning, zooming and so forth. von Trier has claimed in interviews that the loss of control the director gives over to the machine is worth the effect the process has on the actors. Since they have no idea what the camera is going to do, they don't waste time trying to play to it, and end up acting as if its not there, supposedly. You can judge the finished result for yourself, but its only really noticeable when characters occasionally go missing from the frame.
Kristoffer's dilemma eventually takes on more ominous dimensions when he realizes that the real reason he's standing in as 'the boss of it all' is because Ravn intends to screw over his employees, who all loaned him money to get this business going. (We never learn exactly what the business is, by the way) Ravn plans to complete the sale, pocket the profits, and then fire them all. How will Kristoffer handle this murky situation? If you're any kind of von Trier fan, you can probably figure out the answer yourself. Despite the film's impossible-not-to-notice low budget and the fact that it begins to cover the same territory over and over again during a lull in the second act, Boss is absolutely a worthy entry in the von Trier canon and a reminder of the natural directing skill that he possesses. As he often pointed out himself when confronted with criticism over his American trilogy, he's not really anti-American at all, just sort of anti-human, and Boss does nothing but reinforce that.