Ciphers When We Meet: Reconstruction

smokinThere are three things that go right in Reconstruction. First, the photography. Much thought has gone into the look of this film. The eye of the camera opens onto a blue and white montage of traffic zooming through a big city, in this case, Copenhagen. The cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro uses DV to elegant and riveting effects throughout. Color and clarity leak slowly into his palette of blue-gray blurs—nighttime exteriors, dive bar interiors—before we arrive at the dazzling all-white of a chintzy hotel room. The deliberate murkiness of the images, however, pays off emotionally just once: the film’s anti-hero, a chain-smoking shutterbug named Axel, crosses into a Kafkaesque state of non-existence; even his own father doesn’t remember him, and the scene of parental rejection in which Axel desperately tries to make contact with a bewildered, angry old man is the only moment that seems to have been shaped by human hands. Claro and the director Christoffer Boe overlay this brief sequence with an almost impenetrable veneer of static, as if the exposed pain would be unwatchable without its veil of haze.

Second, there’s the use of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” in the version sung by Fred Astaire, over Reconstruction’s opening and closing credits. Pithy, timeless, deliriously dislocating, the lyrics and melody conjure a mood that Boe and his co-scenarist Mogens Rukov can barely suggest. When Astaire sings, “There’s oh such a hungry yearnin’ burnin’ inside of me,” that’s more authentic passion than you’ll get in the stale Last Year at Marienbad postures affected by the lovers Axel and Aimee. “Why Rome?” Axel asks. “Why Rome exactly?” Aimee volleys back to Axel who says, “Because I think it sounds right.” (Elsewhere on the soundtrack, Boe cues copious reprises of Barber’s well-flogged warhorse Adagio for Strings—a dead giveaway that what the director knows about classical music would fit snugly in the confines of a very small sock.)


And then there’s the third and final plus of leading lady Maria Bonnevie playing a dual role: she has something of the gamine quality—though none of the earthiness—of a young Susan Anspach. The pleasure of Miss Bonnevie as the virtuous girlfriend Simone, whom Axel casts off for the married Aimee, and as the adulteress, springs entirely from her physical loveliness, not from the lines she’s given to speak.

Still, Miss Bonnevie performs with more aplomb than her leading man Nikolaj Lee Kaas, an actor who may have been cast for his vague resemblance to David Beckham (Kaas, take note, is far uglier) and for his ability to smoke cigarettes with angst-filled brio. Most of Reconstruction consists of endless lighting up, endless deep drags, endless fondling of lighters (in close shots) until finally one can’t help but wonder if a tobacco company ‘rolled the whole enterprise.

Reconstruction won the Camera d’Or last year at Cannes for best first film. The audience at the Portland International Film Festival (where I saw it in February) applauded heartily, if not mindfully, at the movie’s conclusion. Yet Reconstruction is impoverished. Boe and Rukov pretty much spell out aesthetic doom from the start when the film’s narrator tells us, “Is this a beginning or an end? It is only a film—a construction. Even so, it hurts.” Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there you have it: You are merely watching a [bad] movie, and your anticipated reaction has just been pre-programmed. That the narrator intoning those lines also happens to be a novelist, supposedly successful, who is married to the woman whom Axel wants to run away with, further compounds a sense of being led down the (meta-) garden path. – NPT

March 6, 2004