Allegro / Gilles' Wife
Zetterstrom is a celebrated Danish pianist who has forsaken human emotion in pursuit of perfection. Upon returning to Copenhagen, he begins to have visions of a former lover a woman who has been erased from his mind. Struggling to remember his past, Zetterstrom must enter a mysterious part of the city known as "The Zone" to recover his memory and reclaim his life.
Based on the novel by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, Gilles Wife is a haunting tale of love and betrayal in a small mining town on the outskirts of France. In this startling film from director Frédéric Fonteyne, a devoted wife struggles to save her marriage when she suspects her husband is having an affair with her younger sister.
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Zetterstrom (well played by Ulrich Thomsen, who appeared in the excellent "Brothers" a few years back) is a concert pianist who has never been able to find true happiness in his life, even after he's met and formed a relationship with Andrea (Helena Christensen), the supposed woman of his dreams. Zetterstrom may be a brilliant musician, but he suffers from an innate distrust of other people, including those who are nearest and dearest to him. When Andrea decides to up and leave him virtually without warning, Zetterstrom imposes a form of amnesia on himself that effectively wipes out all memory of his life prior to her departure. At the same time - and this is where things really get strange - the section of Copenhagen where he was born and raised undergoes a bizarre transformation, suddenly becoming cut off from the rest of the world by some inexplicable supernatural force. Though no one can physically enter this area - now officially re-named The Zone - Zetterstrom is determined to force his way in, when, after ten years of not being able to recall his past, he begins to suspect that his memories may actually be residing in that mysterious place.
Needless to say, this is not your average science fiction movie, nor is it your average tale of lost love. But by combining these two usually distinct genres into a single story, director and co-writer (with Mikael Wulff) Christopher Boe has come up with a work that is both thought-provoking and haunting in its otherworldly strangeness. Zetterstrom wanders through the maze of this "pseudo" city like one in a trance or a dream, searching for clues to his forgotten past and trying to figure out the identity of the strange woman (Andrea) who flits in and out of the shadows of his imagination.
The message of this strange little parable seems to be that even the most tragic events of our lives make up a crucial part of who we are - and that any effort to dull the pain of those events by tucking them away in a corner far out of reach of our memory only winds up diminishing us as a person in the end. Zetterstrom learns that lesson the hard way, but at least he does learn it. It reflects well on the filmmakers that they've presented their case in as uniquely fanciful and absorbing a way as they have in "Allegro."
I won't go into specifics about the movie but I will say it is definitely worth watching. I would personally have liked to see the story get a little crazier than it actually did, but its still better (in my opinion) than the junk being pumped out by Hollywood these days. It has a dark, surrealist atmosphere and enough little twists in the story to keep the viewer entertained. I would probably have rated it 3 and 1/2 stars if it was possible just because I feel that the story could have gone to many more places than it actually did. Nevertheless, I would recommend checking it out.
This, in a nutshell, is the premise not only for Christoffer Boe's new film, "Allegro," but for "Reconstruction," his 2003 debut which earned both the Camera d'Or and Youth Prize awards at Cannes. Many reviewers have called Boe's work "surreal," though it is, more properly, within the postmodern mode of "metafiction." A metafictional tale is a "self-conscious" story, one that continually reminds you that it is a contrivance, a construction. Indeed, the term "construction" is stressed at the opening of "Reconstruction," and the governing metaphor--both visually and thematically--for "Allegro" is a simple box container. Also, each film is narrated by a controlling figure who not only ushers the audience from one act of the film to the next but manipulates events from backstage and also occasionally walks boldly into the story itself. As for precedents, in both Boe films one feels the echoes of recent work by David Lynch and Charlie Kaufman and also of Lars von Trier's early, rich, pre-Dogma period.
"Reconstruction" is the story of a man who cheats on his girlfriend and wakes the next day to find that no one from his past life remembers him. "Allegro" is slightly more complicated. It deals with another Copenhagen man, Zetterstrom (Ulrich Thomsen), who has come to depend on the psychological crutch of stowing events from his past in a remote, sealed container. However, when a woman enters his life, at middle age, and Zetterstrom falls in love for the first time, he is unable to shake loose from his old way of living. Their love ends in disaster, and ten years later he learns that his past has overflowed its container and erupted physically, in a paranormal manner. Incredibly, his past has sealed off--behind impervious, invisible walls--several blocks of a neighborhood in Copenhagen where Zetterstrom once lived. It is a place that the city comes to refer to as "The Zone."
Boe calls his first film a romance, and the second a science fiction story. His next film ("Offscreen"), he says, "doesn't make any sense" and the fourth will be a war film. He admits that he is basically telling the same story over and simply changing the genre of the piece. This is something, in fact, that is very common among experimental postmodern storytellers, whether they be novelists, filmmakers, or playwrights.
"Allegro" has received a less enthusiastic reception than Boe's debut film, and it is easy to see why. "Reconstruction" was a tight, focused story. It was driven by passionate, impulsive characters who were portrayed by charismatic actors. "Allegro," on the contrary, is a loose, meandering story. It's a more stylistically "busy" film. The characters are older and more cautious. And while the story is more technically daring, brazen even, the actors provide a balance by giving restrained, subtle performances.
While it is true that "Reconstruction" is a more powerful film, "Allegro" is a significant work in its own right. And recognizing this, one must also take into account that the peculiarities of each film are entirely suited to its story and to the protagonist's personality. The technical busyness of "Allegro" is appropriate to Zetterstrom's character, both as a concert pianist and a man who plays underhanded games with his own psychology. And if the film's plot contains many detours and cul-de-sacs, this too is appropriate to the tired, aimless, middle-aged character.
It would be easy enough to argue that Boe missed his mark with this film, but it is more honest and instructive to observe that audiences generally want talented directors to be Peter Pan--that is, to stay youthful and exciting, never to show the mark of maturity. The truth is, "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" will always have more fans than "Jackie Brown," "Badlands" will always have more than "The New World," and "Goodfellas" will always have more than "Kundun." So the old proverb holds. You can lead a horse to a good art-house film, but. . . .