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For cubicle-dwellers, a piercing comedy

In Lars von Trier's "The Boss of it All," Peter Gantzler (standing, right) stars as the boss of a company who hires an actor (played by Jens Albinus, standing at left) to be a temporary CEO. (Aotomavision/IFC First Take)

"The Boss of It All " is about an out-of-work thespian hired to impersonate the CEO of a software company. A normal day in the life of a small-cap company , in other words. The movie's as attuned to Dilbert-level cubicle politics as it is to the pomp and absurdity of the actor's life, and if the Coolidge Corner didn't have dibs on it, I'd say the film should be required viewing at every offsite on or near the Route 128 high-tech corridor. It'll trash company morale but you'll go out laughing. Hollowly.

On top of that, the director is Denmark's Lars von Trier , dogma theorist and perpetrator of such prankishly humorless sins against the arthouse as "Dogville " and "The Idiots ." Who knew the man had a workplace comedy in him, let alone one this sharp?

Von Trier has to observe his meta-filmmaking conceits, so he deconstructively narrates the film and is occasionally glimpsed at his camera in a window reflection. No matter; the fun is in watching Ravn (Peter Gantzler ), the real director of the company, coach Kristoffer (Jens Albinus ) in the correct portrayal of a CEO. The latter would rather probe for motivation and character arcs as proscribed by his acting guru, a playwright no one has heard of.

What's the company's name? It's immaterial. What does it do? Enterprise solutions, I'm guessing. Ravn, a macho lawyer who has built and run the business while passing the buck to a mythical "boss of it all," wants to sell out to an Icelandic entrepreneur (Fridrik Thor Fridriksson ), so he needs a temporary flesh-and-blood top man. The employees are more than happy to meet the CEO who has consistently screwed them over from afar. Not that Ravn tells Kristoffer this: Like any good executive -- or like Von Trier himself -- he makes up the rules and changes them on the fly.

The employees are as motley as they get: the sexpot (Iben Hjejle ), the pining mouse (Mia Lyhne ), the Human Resources disaster waiting to erupt (Casper Christensen ). There's a foreigner (Benedikt Erlingsson ) who speaks gibberish; Ravn canceled his Danish lessons while blaming it on "the boss." They all gauge Kristoffer's fumbling attempts to portray leadership and assume he's -- well, that he's the start-up talent, with a license to be as bizarre as he wants.

Von Trier knows realism is funny enough and he doesn't gild this lily until about halfway in, when he introduces the buyer's lawyer, who's also the actor's ex-wife (Sofie Grabol ). Kristoffer decides to take charge , and the battle between him and Ravn becomes increasingly convoluted before finally imploding in a sort of fatalistic shrug.

Still, there are good gags at the expense of Iceland, which apparently is to Denmark what the Yankees are to the Red Sox: efficient, eternal rivals. The Danes, by contrast, are presented as emotional basket cases, given to weeping and random group hugs.

The contract negotiations between the two sides are dryly hilarious parodies of corporate headbutting, with tact inevitably giving way to bitterness, recrimination, and lawyers. "The Boss of It All" finds the common ground between business and acting -- panicky improvisation -- and wonders whether applause or an executive comp package is the greater reward.

Ty Burr can be reached at For more on movies, go to ae/movies/blog.


The Boss of It All

Written and directed by: Lars von Trier

Starring: Jens Albinus , Peter Gantzler , Iben Hjejle

At: Coolidge Corner

Running time: 101 minutes

Unrated (sexual situations, language, mild fisticuffs, apoplectic Danes)

In Danish and Icelandic, with subtitles