Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Lars von Trier double feature

The Boss of It All mainly made films news when it was released because of von Trier's revolutionary (sort of) camera technique "Automavision," where von Trier decided the best position for the camera in a given scene, and then let a computer decide where to tilt, pan, and zoom, and then the scene is shot. von Trier has taken much of the human directorial aspect out of filmmaking, something he is obviously very interested in - being as contrarian a director as possible. Automavision, then, fits in totally with the theme of The Boss of It All, which is as anti-comedy a comedy as you'll ever see.

The plot is as (purposefully) generic yet nonsensical as any comedy's might be: the boss of an IT company hires an out of work actor to portray the "boss of it all" to the Icelandic investor that wants to buy the company, since the actual owner has been lying to his staff about who the boss is in the ten years he's owned the company. At first, Kristoffer (aka "Svend," the name of the fictional boss) is hired by Ravn just to sign a contract to sell to the Icelandic investor, but things go awry and Kristoffer has to pretend to be the boss for a whole week. In that time, he goes to staff meetings and tech conferences, all the while having no idea about any IT terms or even what the company does. Kristoffer's ineptness isn't, as it might be in a straight comedy, played for laughs; instead, the joke is on the employees, who never suspect a thing, even when "Svend" doesn't know a single thing about IT. Lise, played by High Fidelity's Iben Hjejle, takes his incompetence as an act, just as "Svend"'s emails about being gay. In fact, Ravn has made Svend into whatever each employee needs him to be, from a gay man who tells Lise to take care of Ravn, to a joking man who asks another employee to marry him, to a cruel man who fires another employee's husband, who consequently kills himself.

There are a ridiculous amount of layers to von Trier's films, and this one is no exception. On the surface, it's a satire of the modern comedy - von Trier narrates the film, interrupting once in a while to remind the viewer that it's a movie! Everything will turn out alright and you will be able to walk out of the theater and forget it within minutes! Von Trier has a clear contempt for comedy, so why did he choose to make one? In some commentary I read on the film, the comedy genre is just another obstruction - von Trier makes it hard on himself to make a film. He makes it hard on us, too.

But underneath the veneer of pure satire and contempt of the situational comedy movie is contempt of the complacent audience. We shake our heads in disbelief that the employees just buy Kristoffer's completely unconvincing act as Svend, but don't we, as the audience, do the same kind of buying into false, unbelievable realities when we watch a movie, comedy or not? On first watch, The Boss of It All is a biting satire of comedy, but on further inspection, von Trier is just as disdainful of his audience. He's one of the most challenging filmmakers working today, and I put The Boss of It All, his "light" film, on par with his other masterpieces, Breaking the Waves and Manderlay.


Speaking of difficult, Medea, made for Danish TV, is certainly difficult, but not in nearly as enjoyable a way. von Trier took a Carl Theodor Dreyer unfilmed script of the Euripides play and made it his own. The film is grainy, and it's often hard to hear what's going on. Does the poor film quality (done purposefully) enhance or detract from the film? It's hard to tell.

I've never been very interested in Greek drama in the first place, so the only reason I sought this out was the von Trier direction. Filmed the year after Epidemic (which I also didn't like that much) in much the same visual style, the movie is only 80 minutes long, yet nothing happens in 60 of those minutes. Medea, abandoned by her husband Jason, who is remarrying to Glauce, roams the land with her two sons, swearing revenge on Jason, until something terrible happens. Udo Kier, soon to be a staple in von Trier movies, plays Jason, who has very little to do except look conflicted. The real star of the movie is Kirsten Olesen as Medea, who takes the experimental, dialogue-light role and makes it something beautiful. Her Medea is scary, yet somehow sympathetic.

Although I didn't love the movie, the final 15 minutes contain some of the most beautiful and painful scenes I've seen. There are wide-ranging shots of a horse running across wet sand for miles and miles, that's so gorgeous and a little preview of what's to come from von Trier. When Medea and her children come to their prescribed end, it's almost too much to watch. von Trier brings a different kind of emotions, deep connections with the audience, to Medea, and it's just about enough to make this worth the rent.



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