It’s a bad omen when, in a film’s opening moments, the narrator intones, ‘It is all a film. It is all a construction.’ Underlining the fact that we’re experiencing an artificial construct, besides being wholly obvious, reeks of film school preciousness, which, not surprisingly, is the general impression left by Danish filmmaker Christoffer Boe’s Reconstruction, winner of the Camera d’Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. Visually provocative and arrestingly atmospheric, Boe’s debut feature is a quixotic rumination on destiny, passion, fidelity and the means by which love can be both all-consuming and all-negating. It’s also an affected, oblique exercise in stylistic experimentation that, with its variety of camera tricks, duplicated scenes, and narrative circuitousness, is more apt to make one groan than swoon.
While out one evening with his doting girlfriend Simone (Maria Bonnevie), capricious photographer Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) spies a striking young woman on a train platform and immediately ditches his companion to follow the unknown beauty. Tracking her to a bar and striking up a conversation, he learns that the woman’s name is Aimee, and that she’s in town for her husband August’s (Krister Henriksson) book signing. After coyly discussing a mutual desire to escape their unfulfilling lives, the two head back to Aimee’s hotel room for a night of intense lovemaking. Yet since Aimee, like Simone, is portrayed by actress Maria Bonnevie, it’s apparent that not everything about this encounter is as it seems, a fact confirmed when, the next morning, Alex returns home to find that his apartment no longer exists and no one – not his landlady, his friend, his father, nor Simone – remembers him. Has Alex’s newfound love for Simone (who now plans to leave her needy but emotionally withdrawn spouse) magically made the rest of his life’s relationships void? Is Aimee a symbolic representation of the qualities Alex finds lacking in Simone? Is the entire film merely the distraught fictional storyline of the scorned August’s book?
Boe leaves these central questions open to interpretation, all the while assembling his film – which seems equally indebted to Godard, Buñuel, Kieslowski and Claire Denis – with a swirling haze of Manuel Alberto Claro’s grainy black-and-white and color cinematography, disconcerting sound design by Morton Green, symbolic interludes (shots of a man plummeting in the dark; bookend images of a magician making a cigarette float between his hands) and elliptical editing which blurs the line between what Alex recognizes as real and fantasy. Such stylistic inventiveness creates a mood of intriguing, forlorn mystery, as Alex’s indecision over the true object of his desire – which could be the demure Simone, the alluring Aimee, or simply that singular sensation of falling in love – gives the third act a touch of melancholy. Yet Boe’s aspiration to have the film’s form reflect its content would be more successful if there was any significant substance lurking underneath its flashy exterior. The director is intent on providing airless ambience rather than forceful drama, thereby creating the impression that we’re supposed to feel something profound even though there’s nothing much to care about. Reconstruction ends the way it begins, with the narrator uttering, ‘It is all a film. It is all a construction. It still hurts.’ He’s right on all counts.
Reconstruction starts with a hardback book.