Dir: Christoffer Boe. Denmark. 2003. 89mins
After sowing its wild oats, Dogme has settled down and started a family. Christoffer Boe, one of the first products of this post-Lars generation, is not so much concerned with stripping cinema down to its basics as with manipulating its shimmering surface. The first full-length feature to come out of the Hr. Boe & Co creative team - a group of graduates of the National Film School of Denmark that includes producer Tine Grew Pfeiffer, cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro and sound man Morten Green, who all turned up in matching company t-shirts to the film's Critics' Week premiere - Reconstruction is an ambitious and stylish urban love story that is shot through with filmic self-consciousness. Though some will find it too coldly clever, too much of a bravura party piece, many hard-core cineastes and urban trendsters will be turned on by just these qualities. If properly packaged and targeted at the right audience, Reconstruction could break out of downtown Copenhagen to become a Memento-style arthouse hit.
'It's all film, it's all construction ' but even so it hurts.' This voiceover motto bookends the film, and sums up the director's attempt to ravish us with surging strings and unplugged emotions, at the same time pointing out the artifice of the whole exercise. It is an artifice which is underlined by a repeated image of a conjuror making a cigarette, that most cinematic of addictions, float in the air (this Orson Welles touch is one of many homages in the film).
On one level, this is a story about a rugged photographer, Alex, who is deeply and passionately loved by his girlfriend, Simone. Hemmed in by her doe-eyed devotion, Alex chats up Aimee - though chatting up is hardly the appropriate phrase for this clipped, surreal, Beckettian seduction, which is reprised later in a different version. Aimee is married to August, a much older writer who stumbles upon her affair and seems mutely wounded by it. But there is a suggestion that he is also choreographing it, perhaps even inventing the whole thing, as it gradually becomes clear that Alex is a character in a novel he is writing, and the plot's permutations and repetitions are perhaps no more than mental trial runs for scenes in the book.
Pretentiousness is a risk in an exercise de style of this kind, and Boe nudges the pseudometer into the red on more than one occasion. But this is probably an inevitable side-effect of his ambitious gameplay. As if sensing the risk, Boe and co-scriptwriter Mogens Rukov jam a surreal spanner into the works around halfway through when Alex, running upstairs to his girlfriend's flat after a night of illicit passion, finds himself staring not at a door, but at a hatch leading into the attic: the first in a series of bafflements that keep us guessing up to and beyond the end of the film.
If we can go with it, there is a lot to enjoy here, not least the absorbing performance of the lead actors (especially Maria Bonnevie who plays the parts of both Simone and Aimee). Manuel Alberto Claro's camerawork and lighting uses strong, grainy chiaroscuro on faces and monochrome, colour-washed cityscapes to bring out the noir in Copenhagen; other tricks involve the use of blurred satellite pictures to zoom in on the current location of the characters in a style reminiscent of Charles and Ray Eames' iconic short film Force Of Ten.
Music is used sparingly but effectively: pieces from the classical repertoire - chiefly Barber's wantonly-emotional string compositions - alternate with lounge jazz crooning and the pared-back ambient chords of Thomas Knak. Though it has a faintly metallic tang to it, a whiff of the workshop, Reconstruction is a convincing debut for a director who is well aware of the ravishing, manipulative power of cinema.
Prod co: Nordisk Film
Int'l sales: Nordisk Film International Sales
Prod: Tine Grew Pfeiffer, Lars Kjeldgaard, Ake Sandgreen
Scr: Boe, Mogens Rukov
Cinematography: Manuel Alberto Claro
Sound: Morten Green
Ed: Mikkel E G Nielsen, Peter Brandt
Music: Thomas Knak
Main cast: Nicolaj Lie Kaas, Maria Bonnevie, Krister Henriksson, Malene Schwartz