Reconstruction Review

The winner of the Camera D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2003, Danish director Christoffe Boe’s debut film Reconstruction is a dazzling display of cinematic literacy and technique, that delights in the intricacies of filmmaking and storytelling, although perhaps a little too much at the expense of any meaningful emotional or artistic content.

Right from the opening scene the director shows that he knows how to grab an audience’s attention, starting with a magic trick and a narration by the writer of the story in the film that alerts you to the construct and trickery of what you are about to see. The film then cuts to a scene in a darkened barroom where a man called Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) meets a woman called Aimée (Maria Bonnevie). Are they meeting for the first time or is this the end of something? Perhaps it’s both. He introduces himself and asks if she wants to go to Rome with him – “I know that if you are my dream, I am yours”, he tells her. It’s a start that is wildly romantic and full of potential. Boy meets girl with an element of intrigue, romance and mystery. Anything can happen.

The narrator then introduces himself. His name is August (Krister Henriksson), he’s a writer and the husband of Aimée. Alex is a photographer and he has a girlfriend called Simone. August is writing a story about a man called Alex who meets a woman called Aimée in a bar and asks her to run away with him to Rome. How much of the story that then unfolds is real and how much of it is the creation of August’s imagination? Picking up three identical postcards from a rack in a café, Alex points out the three possibilities open to him and the story – the woman who stays where she is, the one prepared to take a chance, and the one who is a complete unknown quantity. This is the choice for the writer, representing the limitless creative possibilities that lie within a character and within such a simple situation as boy meets girl in a bar. It’s the leap into the unknown that lies between reality and potentiality that is the source of creativity and from which can ensue comedy, tragedy, romance, mystery – all the necessary ingredients of a good story or film. For August, it’s obsession and jealousy that lies within this leap into the unknown, in his imagination of the affair he suspects his wife Aimée is conducting with a young man he crosses on the stairway of the hotel they are staying.

Reconstruction plays many such tricks with the characters. The characters strive to understand who they are and what their place is in the story. They constantly ask each other – “Who are you?” or complain that “I don’t know who you are”. Gradually, in a device reminiscent of Emmanuel Carrère’s La Moustache (just recently filmed by the writer himself), Alex starts to find he is losing his grip on reality, that friends and even his girlfriend don’t know him any more. Is his life literally falling apart and out of his grasp, or is the writer reconstructing events and trying to write him out of the book?

Playing around with a fictional character’s perception of reality in a post-modern reflection on the nature of creativity is a subject that is very much in vogue and has led to some of the most interesting cinema in recent years. More often than not in films of this type, the dichotomy between fiction and reality is shown in the form of a doppelganger character, usually played by the same actor, as in Charlie Kaufmann and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, in Lou Ye’s Suzhou River or Zhang Yuan’s Green Tea (particularly resembling Reconstruction with the repeated coffee shop conversations motif). Often, perhaps in tribute to Hitchcock’s Vertigo which most influentially introduced the idea of obsession in a search for making fiction reality through the reconstruction and remaking of a character, the doppelganger will often be a woman in a blonde wig (Lost Highway, Suzhou River). Using the same actress playing a doppelganger counterpart in a blonde wig (Maria Bonnevie), Reconstruction fits in well with all these films. Like Suzhou River however, the primary motivation for revealing the construct of the fiction by drawing attention to the narrator of the story is to muse self-reflectively on the nature of creativity itself.

Unlike Suzhou River however which worked on every level, particularly on the level of a pure entertainment (or François Ozon’s Swimming Pool, which rather more originally made the image of a swimming pool analogous with the concept of a blank page, but also entertainingly wrote it into an intriguing thriller), Reconstruction fails to make you really care sufficiently about the characters or see them as anything more than a construction or a narrative device. For the movie buff and film critic this is fabulous stuff to look for references and meanings, but for the ordinary viewer looking for something more substantial and entertaining, it will probably just appear confusing, arty and far too clever for its own good.

Reconstruction is released in the UK by Soda Pictures. The DVD is Region 2 encoded.

Presented anamorphically in 2.35:1, the image is almost perfect. There is a lot of grain in evidence here, but it is intentional as a stylistic effect and part of the 16mm negative quality, but it doesn't seem to cause any macro-blocking problems. The image remains stable and crystal clear throughout with good light, contrast and colour balance. The only real issue here is cross colouration, suggesting a video source, which is slightly more noticeable here on account of the high level of grain.

Soda have settled for only including a Dolby Digital 2.0 track for the film, when a 5.1 track is available on the US and Danish releases of the film. The soundtrack however is clear, crisp and echoing, reflecting well the on-set sound with a lot of detail – small noises being clearly audible. The musical score also sounds clear, although the choice of Barber’s Adagio for Strings is misjudged and overused, having too many other associations with other films.

English subtitles are included in white font and are optional.

There are few extra features related to the film, which is disappointing as other releases of the film contain interviews and a commentary. The Trailer (1:50) panned and scanned horribly down to 1.33:1, gives a good impression of the film’s look and feel, but no indication what it is about. Also included however is a short film by the director, Europa (5:42), from the Visions of Europe collection of 25 short films by directors from 25 different countries. Unsurprisingly, the director takes the commission a little too literally and self-reflectively. The film is presented in 2.35:1 and is anamorphic, with fixed English subtitles. The picture quality is almost perfect, although possibly a little dark. Additionally on the disc, there are a couple of trailers for other Soda Pictures releases, The Miracle of Bern and Brothers.

There is no denying that first time director Boe makes the most of a limited set-up and a small number of characters and demonstrates that he has the knowledge and technical skills to weave this into an always intriguing and highly cinema-literate piece of work. It is however a little too referential, self-reflective and coldly academic for you to see the characters as real people dealing with real emotions and circumstances and care sufficiently about them. Soda Pictures have produced a nice DVD edition of a film which always looks fantastic and have even gone to the trouble of including a short film by the director in the extra features, making this interesting film certainly worth a look.

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Last updated: 21/06/2018 08:52:17

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