If you watch "Reconstruction," Christoffer Boe's first full-length feature, you have to applaud the Danish director's cinematic vision and hope that his films become so successful he can afford to pay others to craft future screenplays. Though "Reconstruction" features some innovative cinematography and editing, Boe's and co-writer Mogen Rukov's muddled script—which has the main character entering a kind of "Twilight Zone" for cheaters—mars an otherwise interesting film.
Part of the problem is that Boe, in his first big splash, seems to have one foot on the pier of metaphor and another on the boat of the surreal, or supernatural.
"Reconstruction" opens interestingly enough with a voiceover narrator (whom we come to realize is a novelist) crafting a narrative of possibility rather than actuality: "A man comes into a bar. He sees a beautiful woman. Do they know each other? Is this a beginning or an end? This is what we're about to see."
Okay, it's a little pretentious, but the pretense turns suddenly interesting when the man and the woman in this little scenario begin talking, and the man begins to entertain the same sort of speculative narration that places the two of them in a time, place, and mindset of the imagination. "Is that all you know?" she asks. "I know that you are my dream and I am yours."
You've heard of a story within a story? Well, this is a hypothetical story within a hypothetical story, a fantasized, thinking-aloud projection that comes first from the unseen narrator and then from the man the narrator is talking about. And we quickly learn that the narrator is the husband of the woman in the bar. Now that's interesting. So is Boe's quasi-satellite tracking of his characters, with the names of his characters pinpointed on aerial photographs of Copenhagen that introduce each major scene change. Even when the voiceover narrator talks about the sleight of hand and magic that accompanies a relationship, and we watch a Fellini-style man in suit cupping a cigarette and then levitating the smoldering thing, like a puppet master coaxing his marionettes through impossible sommersaults, you can't help but think that there's something interesting going on here.
Unfortunately, Boe lingers a bit too long on these interesting moments, the way a poet might fall too much in love with a single line that doesn't have nearly the same effect on an audience. He also doesn't seem to know what to do with his speculative scenario once he sets it in motion.
Alex (Boe veteran Nikolaj Lie Kaas) has a girlfriend, but then there's also this woman in the bar—a woman he sees later, on the underground, while he's with Simone (Maria Bonnevie). Without explanation or apology he bolts from the train and chases after Aimee (Bonnevie, in a dual role). Eventually we see them in bed, and Alex leaves just as Aimee's novelist husband, August (Krister Henriksson) returns to find a messy bed and his wife in the shower. In the bathroom, he spies a magazine with a note from a man saying he'd meet her at 1pm, along with a strange, golden cigarette lighter.
But when Alex returns to his flat, it's shades of "Alice in Wonderland," for his door has been replaced by a smaller one that is padlocked. And the woman who lives below him claims not to know him. Neither does his girlfriend, or his friends. O—kay. Here's where Rod Serling makes a behind-the-scenes cameo, and what was a standard, slow-paced, artsy story about an unfolding infidelity becomes something odd and unexplainable. Then he meets Aimee again, and though at first she says she's glad he came, she goes to the bar and sits down. Then she asks the bartender to ask if she can join the gentleman who's alone, and acts as if she's never seen him before. And then there's this thing about if he doubts and looks back at her as he's walking down the street, she will disappear. O—kay.
In an interview, Boe remarks that the film was inspired by the French photographer Lathique, and that it's deliberately contrived so that viewers can get lost in a labyrinth. But there's a difference between ambiguity and confusion, and "Reconstruction" doesn't come close to suggesting how the dots connect. Fans of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" will feel right at home here, but film lovers wanting some hint of what it's all about will be left scratching their heads—which is too much to ask when the pace is so deliberate and the film takes itself too seriously in more than a few spots. And the promise of an interesting, multi-layered story, complete with ruminations about the relationship between script and acting, between conjecture and reality, isn't explored nearly as successfully as it was in "Adaptation."
That's too bad, because the performances seem wasted when the film works against itself. Some of the shining moments come when Boe is able to deftly use cinematic techniques to convey the emotional states of his characters. When, for example, Simone is left on the train while her boyfriend bolts, there's a red-screen shot of the train coursing through the tunnel at high speed, like blood pumping through a vein, and it clearly captures Simone's emotional state as she feels her relationship and her life suddenly lurch out of control. These are the moments that make "Reconstruction" enjoyable and worth reconstructing in your mind after the film's conclusion; the narrative elements, which range from the overly familiar to the inappropriately bizarre, can't be reconstructed in any satisfying way—even if you cared to do so.
Video: "Reconstruction" is presented in anamorphic widescreen at what appears to be slightly larger than a 1.85:1 ratio. Because Boe does so many different things, it's tough to discuss "quality" when the popular notion of quality is clarity, sharpness, vividness, and a kind of hyperrealistic transfer of image to disc. Boe clearly does not subscribe to any such definitions. There are sections shot with colored lenses or dyed, sections that are deliberately grainy, and sections that are muted in color so much that they have the feel of black and white.
Audio: The audio is a clear and sharp Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 in Danish with English subtitles, though it was transferred at a lower volume than most DVDS these days.
Extras: In addition to the trailer, there are three separate on-camera, dual-image interviews with director Boe and his two stars. The split-screen image is an interesting way to go on these, with a profile shot and a straight shot so that the discussions seem, in some strange way, more three-dimensional. The emphasis is on "seems," because the interview remarks themselves are nothing all that extraordinary. Boe does say, rather interestingly, that Copenhagen, where the film was shot, "isn't a great city, but it's all we Danes have," and so he wanted to shoot of film with strong Copenhagen visuals.
Bottom Line: For an affair story, there's surprisingly little passion in "Reconstruction," with most of the emphasis placed on the look of the film and the intellectual exercise that shapes the premise. But even The New York Times crossword puzzle can be solved, which is not something that most viewers will be able to say about this film—one which isn't as provocative as it tries to be.