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Reconstruction (2003)
Director: Christoffer Boe

review by Paul Higson

I always like to see the year out on a good film. Some years ago I bade farewell to 1998 by seeing the only promising looking film on the art house screens at the time, the Icelandic thriller Insomnia, since remade. It was a film of cold icy blues and a fascinating premise. 2004, and we have a Danish film, colours downsized to a mottled digital dirty-blue for a perplexing tale founded on several intriguing ideas, Christoffer Boe's Reconstruction. Reviewers have found it too much but most of those overwhelmed to the point of frustration are house reviewers at the broadsheets committed to seeing all the releases that week, cartoons, Hollywood dross of epic length; they haven't the leisure of selectivity, the poor beggars. Opinions change between festivals and general release: who can blame them for being exhausted now and again and how bad might the timing be for a trick film to pass before them in a week when eight other movies are thrown out into the cinemas to fend for themselves (nine movies that November weekend, that was virtually a month's releasing in 1986). It is interesting how some reviewers failed to cope, shot off, got lost and became angry with Reconstruction. It can be confusing but if you are fresh and alert you should be just trailing that confusion throughout, just about understanding or misunderstanding, and it makes for an unique experience. All you need to be is awake.

Reconstruction treads a precarious line and pulls it off. It is experimental at the same time that it houses interesting and well fleshed out characters, like a fusion between Rohmer and Haneke, less in common with Memento or Vertigo, as other critics might have it, and more in tune with Abre Los Ojos and The Double Life of Veronique. How European can you possibly get? It begins deliberately overly playful, entangling the viewer but arming them with the tools to cut themselves free. Despite tricks, the film has a largely linear structure allowing you to do that, and once the first magic realist upturn is entered into at the end of the first act, it adjusts and allies itself faithfully to that new thread until the next shift. The director's timing of the presumed relationship between intelligent viewer and film is impressive and though we have had first time directors delivering masterpieces before, this is still commendable in its exactitude.

Young Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kass) meets a beautiful woman in a bar in downtown Copenhagen, or is he imagining he is meeting her, is it a rehearsal in his head, is it the second time they have met, or is the meeting a fiction, the novel being written by her husband, a renowned author? Let's start again.

Alex cuts out on his father at the end of an evening meal leaving girlfriend, Simone (Maria Bonnevie), to account for him. She catches up with him on the underground train but by then he has become fixated with an older woman, another blonde (also played by Bonnevie), the wife of a top author. She has snuck out of the hotel room in her neglectful husband's absence while he is out on the lecture and promotion circuit. The "stupidly fragile" girlfriend writes a little message of love on a scrap of paper and slips it into his coat pocket. It is the catalyst for what happens next. He snubs her in pursuit of the other woman, the note unread. He beds the woman and tries to return to his apartment only to find that it no longer exists, neither does anyone's memory for him. The girlfriend is now married, with a child, to his former best friend. The only one who remembers him is the woman with whom he has all-consummately fallen in love. It is an outrageous relief, an essay on the power of love, that nothing else is then as important as this woman so short a time in his acquaintance. They plan to leave together... for Italy. The husband (Krister Henriksson) has wind of the plan, though. Nothing without his beautiful wife, he cannot allow it to happen. But then Alex finds the note in his pocket and it all begins to unravel again.

The splendid double play, the in ignoramus device and the characters' penchant for play acting a knowing or not knowing, is supremely thought out and the result is several precious scenes. When the adulterers meet in the restaurant bar the next day she excuses herself to the bathroom and on returning moves back to the bar with her back to him, cold to him, and Alex is uncertain, as are we, whether the curse has struck again or that this is more of the play-acting engendered the night before but here, unnervingly, visited on him for the first time since the onset of the phenomenon. In a second scene, having discovered the love message then spotting Simone in a bar, he leaves without speaking to her resigned to the new shape of the world. She pursues him. His side of the conversation is held from the perspective of one having accepted the situation now that he has an alternative, a new love to flee with, but she appears to be role-playing also now with him. She may be his girlfriend again now that he has read the love message, the world back in order, but he is uncertain, and she could yet prove to be that new Simone, falling in love with him anew and humouring him in response to his quasi-romantic lunatic behaviour of earlier in the day. He does not identify the dimensional correction and continues to the originally planned rendezvous. It is quite delicious and it is down to the two leads' incredible talent that it is conveyed so beautifully. In truth, I'm not as altogether convinced as others that it was one actress in the two roles.

The most disturbing thing about the film is that I think I understand it on every level it operates on. I just wish I could remove the idea that the author and his wife are real, the other couple fiction and that he has written himself and his wife into the novel, which is seemingly the overall idea of the film. I do hope on next viewing it throws up new mysteries. I can at least try and work out how they got everything they did into 90 minutes; it was a verily accommodating hour and a half.

Some strange tricks are entered into including a frightening 'fall' sequence which is unlike anything I've seen before, a frantic figure in apparent freefall, arms and legs flailing, a flicker effect, in silhouette, the illusion of hurtling down in a chaotic fast pan hemmed in by black stains. At first it appears to represent the young man, then when secondly it happens, it seems to represent the author and his situation. But if one is the fiction of the other, then it represents both. The film image occasionally corrupts during particular stressful situations for its characters. Despite the concept, the plotting is stable and the likeable banter between the characters human. Ignore the negative creep critics, they need a long break... perhaps they might like to try Copenhagen.
Reconstruction

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Is this how it happened? - Reconstruction


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