Like its gifted, but emotionally frigid, pianist hero, “Allegro” is filled with technical virtuosity but short on real feeling. Sophomore effort by Danish helmer Christoffer Boe offers a mix of cerebral sci-fi conceits, baroque visual texture and romantic melancholy similar to that in his Cannes kudo-reaping debut, “Reconstruction.” Still, pic is remarkably original and reps further evidence of a unique directorial vision. Destined after its warm Venice reception for an extended fest tour, “Allegro” should tickle the ivories of egghead auds in arthouse venues.
Boe retraces steps taken in the geography-obsessed “Reconstruction” and his earlier shorts by setting the action largely in an area of picturesque central Copenhagen. Danish burg is seen during the opening segment in a series of aerial nocturnes, intercut with satellite views and handmade maps showing characters’ locations. And much like “Reconstruction,” voiceover by narrator-cum-puppetmaster Tom (Henning Moritzen) enigmatically tells auds how the story will end and self-reflexively draws attention to the pic’s status as fiction.
Some faux-naif cel animation fills in the backstory of central character Zetterstrom (played by real piano prodigy Svetoslav Korolev as a child, and Ulrich Thomsen as an adult), whose quest for perfection in performance cuts him off from human contact. Partial redemption arrives in the comely form of g.f. Andrea (model Helena Christensen).
However, Zetterstrom’s inability to tell her he loves her not only ends the relationship but creates some kind of bizarre rupture in space and time. Like an inversion of what happens to the hero of “Reconstruction” — who wakes up after an affair to find no one remembers who he is the next day — Zetterstrom loses memory of his own past.
His lost memories become entombed in a supernaturally sealed-off section of Copenhagen which locals dub “the Zone,” a moniker that invokes Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker.” (The notion of a sentient place that stores memories echoes the intelligent planet in “Solaris.”)
Ten years later, Zetterstrom accepts an invitation to come back to Copenhagen from New York City to give a recital in a museum. Following bizarre instructions sent by mysterious narrator Tom, Zetterstrom re-enters the Zone where weird things happen. Ultimately, Zetterstrom must relive a key moment in his relationship with Andrea to regain his memory and the musical talent which Tom has stolen.
Partly inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s “Alphaville” (as name of Boe’s production company suggests), “Allegro” proffers a low-budget, high-concept brand of sci-fi that’s heavier on “fi” than “sci.” Boe’s Zone reps a rich metaphor for how the lovelorn shun places where traumas happened, while the story’s arc works through intriguing ideas about the solipsism of talent, memory and pain.
But on the distaff side, the core love story lacks sincerity. The absence of chemistry between stiff lead Thomsen (who specializes in uptight prigs) and mostly decorative Christensen underscores the fact that their characters’ supposed passion for each other is little more than a device to get the script’s intellectual plates spinning. Momentum starts to wane by the end.
As if trying to fill the emotional vacuum, film’s surface offers a kaleidoscope of striking imagery, particularly favoring inky nightscapes sliced by strings and pools of light. Lenser Manuel Alberto Claro employs different stocks, including Super-16, DV and 35mm, to signal shifts between separate layers of reality.
Subtle visual effects are used to render glinting, rippling trompe l’oeuil walls of the Zone. Production design favors cool neutrals to create atmosphere of cosmopolitan chic. Rest of the tech package is classy.