The Boss of It All, 15

A bit of a lark or a Byzantine puzzler? However you see it, this Lars von Trier 'comedy' is a bizarre creation

Danish provocateur Lars von Trier has never been my favourite film-maker, but his eccentricities are so intriguing that he's possibly my favourite idea of a film-maker. His latest film is a comedy – or rather, the idea of a comedy. Von Trier hovers knowingly over The Boss of It All – and I do mean hovers. He's glimpsed in reflection in the opening shot, riding a crane up the outside of an office building, as he tells us in voice-over what to expect: "a comedy and harmless as such".

Ostensibly Von Trier's least bizarre film, The Boss of It All is a moderately amusing workplace farce, but it increasingly hints at the strategies of a Byzantine mindscrew. A businessman, Ravn (Peter Gantzler), hires actor Kristoffer (Jens Albinus) to play the boss of his IT company at a contract signing with an Icelandic firm. It turns out that Ravn is the head of the company; his modesty, he claims, has led him to invent a permanently absent top dog, the "Boss of It All". But the inept Kristoffer lets himself be seen by Ravn's staff and ends up having to attend meetings with its inner circle of top staffers, the "Six Seniors", who all have different ideas about the Boss's true nature.

What ensues is a sitcom-like patchwork of misunderstandings and coincidences. The dopier Kristoffer is, the more the Six think he's a genius out to manipulate them. One woman (Iben Hjejle) is convinced he's pretending to be gay, so promptly seduces him; while Kristoffer's ex-wife (Sofie Grabol) turns out to be the Icelanders' lawyer. Some gags fall flat, others have a dry conceptual wit. Ravn keeps summoning Kristoffer to meetings on increasingly ludicrous "neutral grounds" (a café, a garden centre, a zoo); the Icelandic boss (Viking-like film-maker Thor Fridrik Fridriksson) fulminates via an interpreter about those accursed Danes; and there's a nice running gag about one woman's fear of the photocopying machine.

Kristoffer wanders through it all clueless, all things to all employees, rather like Peter Sellers' vacant gardener-turned-guru in Being There.

The Boss of It All would seem an unambitious, amiable lark, if not for two things. One is the joylessly knowing commentary interspersed by Von Trier, a man who can smirk even in voice-over. The other is the way that the camera keeps shifting from angle to unlikely angle, for no obvious reason and in rampant violation of the laws of film editing. While the framing twitches in this apoplexy of jump cuts, the actual grain of the image keeps changing too, as does the sound: a single line of dialogue can seem as though it's patched together from recordings using several different microphones.

It turns out – although you have to read the press notes to learn this – that the film was made using a new principle called Automavision, in which a computer runs a programme to determine particular variables: tilt, pan, focal length, aperture et al. The effect, Von Trier claims, is of "inviting chance in from the cold and thus giving the work an idea-less surface free of the force of habit and aesthetics".

With its uncannily detached feel and anaesthetically flat look – perfectly suited to a film about an IT firm – The Boss of It All is certainly idiosyncratic. The theory suits the material too: the story is about abnegating responsibility, ascribing the authorship of your actions to someone else. Ravn can exploit his adoring staff all the better because they think he's reluctantly following the dictates of a merciless Boss. Likewise Von Trier, although he's named as director, claims he's just implementing the camera's decisions; Automavision even gets the film's official cinematography credit.

The premise reminds me of the conceit formerly adopted by British artist Keith Tyson, who used to claim that his creations were executed following the random but precise dictates of an apocryphal "Art Machine". Whether Automavision really "shot" Von Trier's movie, whether it even exists, is matter for conjecture: this is after all a story about bare-faced lying. But its supposed existence puts the film in a very peculiar bracket, making it not so much cinema as conceptual art.

In fact, The Boss of It All has the oddly dead look of those professionally polished but visually characterless pieces that result when gallery artists want their videos to resemble, but not actually be, "proper" films.

After a while, as it happens, the hiccuppy discontinuities created by Automavision become so familiar that you barely notice them.

The Boss of It All is a bizarre creation: Neil LaBute meets Brian Rix, "The Death of the Author" meets The Office. But what a bizarre paradox too: that Von Trier's most experimental film should look like his most mainstream, and that his most audience-friendly film should also be his most recondite dead end.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Arts and Entertainment

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment