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    Tryst with a twist

    "Reconstruction" is a dizzying Danish puzzle about a man who, after a romantic encounter, is bounced into a parallel reality in which his existence seems to have been erased.


    Tottering between pretension and daring, artifice and artistic license, the Danish director Christoffer Boe ultimately (though perhaps overconfidently) steers "Reconstruction," which won the Camera d'Or at Cannes (best debut film), into the camp of the good, the watchable, the intriguing.

    Directed by: Christoffer Boe.
    Written by: Christoffer Boe, Mogens Rukov.
    Cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Maria Bonnevie, Krister Henriksson, Nicolas Bro, Helle Fagralid, Peter Steen, Malene Schwartz, Ida Dwinger.
    Cinematography: Manuel Alberto Claro.
    Edited by: Peter Brandt, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen.
    The opening sequences grate, though. They feature dense, aphoristic narration and camera trickery meant to establish the artificiality of the enterprise of watching film, of spectating art, and, in particular, of taking in the story that will follow. Through visual analogy, filmmaking is equated with sleight of hand, not magic. However, this particular hand is heavy rather than slight. The in-your-face theoretics and self-awareness are presented forcefully, delivered by an iron fist in a glove of Danish velvet. Luckily, almost like a trumpeting book-jacket copy written by some publishing-house hack, the jarring obviousness appears only at the beginning and end. In between, the theme of artificiality is treated with far more subtlety and power.

    Amidst some temporal shuffling of scenes, the film introduces Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a ragamuffin photographer in a relationship with a beautiful girl, Simone (Maria Bonnevie), who has more feelings for him than he for her. Introduced in parallel are Aimee (also played by Bonnevie ... level-one artificiality achieved, Houston) and her older, work-preoccupied husband August (Krister Henriksson). August also happens to be a writer, and, in a way, serves as the anchor for the self-reflexive acrobatics (or airs, depending on your tolerance for postmodernish themes) that the film puts on. The ripe-for-a-tryst Alex crosses paths with the ripe-for-a-liaison Aimee, and they do as the birds and bees do. And then comes the part that will infuriate or fascinate, a textbook deus ex machina.

    Alex enters a parallel universe where he does not exist. He returns to his apartment and finds that it does not exist; his landlady does not recognize him. Nor do Simone or his friends. A puzzle is introduced. Is Alex mad, or are his friends perpetrating a resentful ruse, to punish him for abandoning Simone? Or has reality truly altered in some inexplicable fashion, a curse to smite Alex? While the viewer works this out, Kaas shows skills: Alex's response is riveting and true, his distress as genuine as the premise is artificial. This proves to be the meta-message of the film: the human is sometimes best distilled in patently constructed situations, artificially "reconstructed" as it were, rather than observed in a prism of perfect realism. In the end, Alex may be no more than a figment of the writer August's tormented imagination, just as Aimee appears to be only a figment of Alex's.

    Dizzy? I was. This is, for better or worse, the esoteric plane where this film plays out its drama. Boe, like fellow countryman Lars von Trier, seems to enjoy working an awareness of film's fakeness into the texture of the movie itself, sharing it with the audience, incorporating it into the viewing experience. What makes it work here, though, are two things: the performance of Kaas, and the care in the film's details. For example, the three postcards that Alex uses in his seduction of Aimee, representing different choices of action, show up again on a subway platform, at another crucial existential juncture. The film is riddled with such precision-crafted throwaways, which make its high ambitions feel somewhat earned, as well as fortify the film's pro-dream, anti-realism bent. Kaas, meanwhile, generates striking pathos, and having his sincere performance embedded in this meticulously-built but barely real atmosphere creates a sustained frisson which pulls the film through its overthinking.

    The earnest high art aims of "Reconstruction" could have easily made the film more provoking than provocative, but its fine execution and fine lead help the film transcend mere coffeehouse fare.

    SEPTEMBER 10, 2004

    Reader comments on Reconstruction:

  • impossibly stylish   from Elaine, Mar 3, 2005
  • impressed!!!!   from Mary, Apr 1, 2005
  • impressed!!!:)   from afsin, Oct 17, 2005
  • [no subject]   from sizike, Dec 14, 2005
  • reconstruction   from dreea, May 14, 2006
  • Where's the beef?   from George P, May 16, 2006
  • Hip Flick   from White Boy, May 16, 2006
  • Reconstruction kept me glued   from Alan Ford, Sep 1, 2006

  • Post a comment on "Reconstruction"