* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 November 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)
Reconstruction is "clever", "self-referential", "meticulously constructed", and, dare I say it, "post-modern". These are all fine things for a film to be, although they are all descriptors of an intellectual nature. Which would be fine if, in its earliest fit of self-awareness, the narrator didn't assure the audience that even though the whole thing is artificial, a construction, the audience will come to care as if it were real anyway, a goal that it only sporadically meets.
That is, of course, the sort of promise that is implicit in any work of fiction. There are many interpretations for why co-writer/director Christoffer Boe included the explicit statement, from pretension to desperation and back to wanting to underscore one of the film's themes. Or perhaps it is merely forewarning, because otherwise one's initial impression of the film would be that of a well-written romantic fantasy, and may be disappointed when it becomes something else.
The story initially seems straightforward - Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) meets Aimee (Maria Bonnevie) in a bar, and hits on her, dispite having a girlfriend Simone (also played by Bonneville) while she is married to August (Krister Henriksson), a writer who also serves as the narrator. They have a tryst while August is out of town, but when Alex leaves Aimee's hotel room, he finds that his entire life has been erased - his apartment no longer exists, while his landlord, friends, father, and girlfriend no longer recognize him. And when he meets up with Aimee again, it's unclear whether she knows him or simply finds him attractive for the same reasons she did before.
The idea of a rewritten reality that only one person can remember is one that has been in play a lot over the past decade. The most recent high-profile example is probably The Forgotten with Julianne Moore; perhaps the most jaw-droppingly cool is Alex Proyas's Dark City. A cult TV series named Nowhere Man still has its fans. Perhaps one of the most obscure, but closest to what Boe is attempting here, is comic-book philosopher Alan Moore's "Book of Mercury", a book containg the complete history of the universe (one that can be emended) which appeared in an otherwise undistinguished line.
Those works, though, have stories in which the characters acknowledge the oddness of their situations, where this remarkable, impossible thing pre-empts everything else, but here, it just seems like a distraction from Alex's interest in the two women. Of course, he may just be written that way; it soon becomes clear that AUgust's writing is affecting Alex's life. Is he trying to steer Alex away form his wife, or is there actually no Alex at all? After all, the uncanny similarity between Simone and Aimee suggests that one or both of them is something other than she seems. It's an interesting setup, which raises interesting ideas, but there's no story to it.
It's a well-made movie - the acting is good, especially from Ms. Bonnevie, who essays her two seperate parts well enough that it's not initially obvious the same actress is playing both roles. Boe's direction is excellent, especially for someone directing their first feature. He uses a grainy film stock in order to highlight the story's artificiality, and establishes scenes with extreme overhead shots that serve as maps for character locations. It's a visually striking film, certain enough.
It is also a film that often seems primarily designed to make smart people feel smart. It throws ideas around, little dollops of them, and when these ideas don't add up to a real story, the audience is meant to be impressed at how ambiguous and open to interpretation the final result is. And that's a perfectly fine response, and I don't begrudge anyone any enjoyment they get that way. Boe was one of the founders of the Dogme 95 movement (though he must have been an intern or something), and although I liked it more than Dogville, it rubbed me the same way - so impressed with its own cleverness that it forgets to be anything but clever.