Review by Beth Gilligan
Posted on 01 May 2005
Source Palm Pictures DVD
Reconstruction begins on a deliberately puzzling note. As the credits roll, images of a city flicker onscreen and a recording of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” plays in the background. These images and sounds are soon replaced by a grainy shot of a man lighting a cigarette, which he places in his hand. The cigarette subsequently drifts upward into the space between his two hands, dangling in the air. Just as the viewers’ puzzlement is about to set in, an off-screen narrator pipes up, explaining, “This is how it always ends. A little magic, a little smoke. Something floating.”
While the above description does little in the way of explaining the film’s plot – or lack thereof – it signals one of the movie’s recurring preoccupations. While writer-director Chrisoffer Boe’s main interest seems to lie in the nature of love and desire, as played out by would-be couple Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Maria Bonnevie, he is adamant in his stance that the tricky terrain of human emotions cannot be conveyed in a straightforward manner. As a result, time shifts back and forth to the extent that it’s difficult to tell what is happening when or what stage of the relationship the characters are at. As the narrator, who we soon realize is the husband of Kaas’s object of desire, chastens the viewer at the beginning, “remember, it is all film. It is all a construction. But even so, it hurts.” To exemplify this point, Boe often inserts overhead map shots of Copenhagen pinpointing the characters’ respective locations and has the narrator occasionally chime in to question whether what we are seeing is real or fake, the beginning or the end.
While this may sound confusing, at the movie’s core is a surprisingly moving romance that gains momentum as its pieces fall slowly together. Kaas’s Alex is a photographer with a girlfriend whom he loves but has difficulty committing to. When he spots Bonnevie’s Aimee while waiting for a train, he is instantly captivated, even going so far as to abandon his girlfriend to pursue her. Once the two embark on an affair, Alex’s world is literally turned upside down, and he and Aimee are forced to reevaluate the strength of their feelings for each other.
Throughout all the elaborate visual and narrative set-ups, Kaas and Bonnevie remain deeply absorbed in their roles, lending the film a credence it may otherwise have lacked. It is a tribute to Bonnevie’s chameleonic talents that I didn’t realize until the film’s end credits that she played the role of Aimee as well as that of Alex’s girlfriend Simone (a discovery that added another layer of depth to the plot).
That said, I couldn’t help but come away from the movie with the sense that Boe belonged in that school of filmmakers (Sofia Coppola and David Gordon Green can be counted among his peers) who ape the work of old masters (Antonioni and Malick are both popular choices) with such astonishing technical virtuosity that it’s easy to forget you’re not watching a wholly original piece of art. This statement is not meant to denigrate the quality of the films these directors have produced – I suspect all three have a masterpiece somewhere inside them – but rather to highlight the extent to which they lean on the past to voice their anxieties about the present.
As I watched Reconstruction, no fewer luminaries than Antonioni [Alex’s career choice struck me as an obvious wink to the David Hemmings character in Blow-Up], Wong Kar-Wai, Godard, and Resnais leapt into my mind at one point or another. Although the story is set very specifically in modern-day Copenhagen, the couples’ interactions have a timeless feel, their discussions free of pop culture references and their concerns universal. As such, I look forward to seeing what Boe is capable of once he finds a voice that is wholly his own.