Reconstruction

by (2003, Denmark)

Even those who are in the most committed of relationships have probably found themselves, at one time or another, wondering, “What if I were with someone else?”  Perhaps the relationship has hit a dry spot, or things have become too mundane and boring, or perhaps some longlost memory about someone else resurfaces, and for a brief time, the “What if?” question raises its head.  Most people probably brush aside such questions as mere fanciful thinking and get back to life at hand.  However, such is not the case in Reconstruction, which explores that “What if?” and adds a new one: “What if being with someone else entirely rewrote your reality?”

Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is a young photographer working in Copenhagen who seems to have a pretty comfortable life.  He’s been in a relationship with his girlfriend Simone (Maria Bonnevie) for a long time, perhaps too long.  Whilst out to dinner with Simone and his father, Alex, feeling restless and unable to bear the monotony of being with Simone, ditches them both and heads off to a bar where he meets Aimee (also played by Bonnevie).

Aimee is married to August Holm (Krister Henriksson), an acclaimed author who is in Copenhagen promoting his latest book.  She too has grown bored with her relationship, tired of her husband’s neglect as he focuses on his career, and is out on the town as well.  Somehow, Alex manages to charm Aimee—or maybe it’s the other way around—and the two end up spending the night together.

Alex manages to leave before August returns, but upon leaving the hotel, his entire world seems to unravel.  His apartment inexplicably disappears altogether, and neither his best friend nor his neighbor recognize him.  Not even Simone recognizes him, and she grows increasingly alarmed as he tries to convince her of the life they had together.  The only one who does remember him is Aimee, and perhaps because of this, he continues to pursue this new affair.

However, August has become suspicious of his wife’s activities and soon wises up to her affair with Alex.  Distraught, he begins work on a new novel, the plot of which seems to be describing Alex and Aimee’s affair as it unfolds, and perhaps even describes how it will end.

Due to its nonlinear nature—we see Alex and Aimee’s affair unfold in a rather disjointed manner—and because of its surreal atmosphere, Christoffer Boe’s debut full-length has often been compared to Memento.  However, because of its focus on the surreal vagaries of love and broken relationships, the film also bears a marked similarity to a nightmarish, David Lynch-esque version of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.  At the beginning of the film, the narrator (who turns out to be August), compares what is about to take place to a fairy tale, and that’s a good way of looking at it.

As he pursues this new affair with Aimee, Alex seems to slip through the cracks of reality, ending up in a version of Copenhagen that is both familiar and terribly alien.  Much of this is attributable to the film’s cinematography, which makes great use of DV’s unique look to cast an alien pall over the city’s streets, shops, and alleys.  And as the film progresses, the plot grows increasingly surreal.

Indeed, parts of it feel entirely Kaufman-esque (e.g., Alex not being able to find his apartment, August’s book apparently planning out the affair before it happens).  And it doesn’t help matters that the same actress is used for both female leads, which raises some interesting questions.  Is Alex simply trying to pursue a different, alternate version of Simone?  Who is the real woman, Simone or Aimee?  Was he attracted to Aimee because she reminded him of Simone or vice versa?

Although it’s easy to get wrapped up in the film’s visuals and the vagaries of its plot, Boe and his cast do a good job of keeping the characters sympathetic and well defined as well.  Although what Alex is getting into is clearly wrong, and the film thankfully doesn’t find his affair a thing worth celebrating, it’s not difficult to find some sort of sympathy for Alex as his world unravels around him.  Likewise, Aimee is not painted in flattering colors either, but the film doesn’t gloss over the neglect she has experienced from her husband.

In most films, the affair between Alex and Aimee would be portrayed as this liberating, praiseworthy relationship, a chance for them to leave behind boring, passionless relationships for something truly sensual and fulfilling.  And interestingly enough, most of the quotes I’ve seen from critics seem to lean in this direction.  However, I can’t help but wonder if they’re missing the point.  When the film finished, I was not left with warm, fuzzy feelings about Alex and Aimee and their fling; I wasn’t singing the praises of the wonderful, passionate relationship they had.

Rather, I was left with a sense of emptiness, a sense of loss and confusion.  What Alex did have was thrown away for what he might have had, and as a result, he ends up with nothing.  Perhaps that point got lost for some in the film’s nonlinear structure and surreal, paranoid atmosphere.  But it came through loud and clear for me, and as such, made the film an even more intriguing and emotional one than it might’ve been otherwise.