You have a real naturalistic style when it comes to performance and you have a plot that is intricate and steeped in artifice, and you bring these opposite elements together. You have the very formal and static overhead shots, and then you go in with the handheld camera to get this naturalistic performance.
I very much tried to make the elements meet because I really want to have this naturalistic feeling of the world being really immense - how you live, smoke a cigarette, how you drink a cup of coffee, the looks of two people at a bar - having this very naturalistic feel which is very much in the vein of what Andre Bazin talks about, the "window of cinema," the screen as a window looking out into the world, which is very much a quality of moviemaking. Just watching how things appear, just watching the train come into the station from the Lumière Brothers, that's a quality to itself. Obviously you can't watch the train all the time, but there is a quality of just watching the world. Terrence Malick is maybe the greatest director at capturing the beauty and the surreality of just watching the world. Obviously in a very stylized way, but still there is something to that.
Another element which I'm very interested in is capturing the essence of the nature of love, of having these two meet in a very natural setting, having this poetic approach to something bigger than life, trying to do this with a plot that is very intricate and artificial in some ways, and having it contrast with actors who are very much themselves, very naturalistic, and enhance that with a handheld camera which is almost like a documentary - trying to follow these characters who are captive in a story that they have no idea they were acting in. We end up in this strange mixture of something very naturalistic and highly stylized at the same time.
A lot of recent Danish cinema is shot with handheld cameras. Not to make any assumptions on your influences, but has the Dogme 95 back-to-the-roots movement had any influence on your style?
No. I can honestly say that the first movie I did with handheld, which was this short called Obsession, came out before the first Dogme film. The great influence of all I'm doing is perhaps Tarkovsky; definitely Leos Carax with his poetic, bigger-than-life scenery about love; but also Godard. I think there would be no modern cinema without Godard and I think that the whole New Wave of the 60s is everything that Dogme was and more. It was handheld cameras and small crews, it was natural settings, it was out in the street, and it was by young people who love cinema. They knew cinema better than any of us and any of the Dogme directors ever did. They really invented all the shots. They did a hell of a lot more than Dogme's ever done, so my focus has always been that and not really Dogme.
Some critics have compared Reconstruction, at least in their attempts to describe it, to Last Year at Marienbad and Vertigo. What do you think about those connections?
Besides the fact that they are two masterpieces of modern cinema? Yes. It's true. I mean, they were not referenced when I made the movie. Last Year at Marienbad is so intrigued with playfulness and story and recreating story, so obviously, I was somewhat aware of that, but I don't think it was until after I watched the movie that I realized it. Because if you've seen Last Year at Marienbad, it's a very strange movie. It's not a movie that you say, "I want to recreate some of that." It's its own movie, you can't. Vertigo, if you really get into it, it's also something that you really can't... You can't try to recreate it. You can't even take elements of it. It's really in the league of unique moviemaking.
What I was very interested in was French literature. Alain Resnais was also very much influenced by French New Wave literature. My biggest reference point was actually Ramond Queneau's Exercises in Style, which I gave everybody on the set. It's 99 versions of the same little scene. It's a scene with a guy who's on a train and somebody watches him and he discovers that he's missing a button, and later on he sees the same guy on the street. That small scene is written in 99 different ways: dramatically, epically, as a dialogue, and then 96 other different kinds of ways. That, to me, was very intriguing. I wanted to make, in many ways, a movie that was the same scene all over through the movie, but progressing. So it's basically a guy meeting this woman - obviously there turned out to be a lot of other scenes, not just a man meeting a woman - but basically the movie should be a man meets a woman and something happens. And they talk, and there's a flirtation, and I wanted the movie to be basically that scene, constantly reworking that scene with just slight twists and turns. And the trick - and that's why I had to write so much on the script - was how can you make something that's in essence still - it's about the look of love, it's about a guy meeting a woman, and just constantly reworking that - and still have it progress, still making it interesting to watch, and having the ending in a different place from the beginning. To solve that, to stand still and still progress, was really the big task of writing the script.
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