Christoffer Boe, Allegro
Christoffer Boe likes Cannes. After graduating from the Danish Film School in 2001, his student film Anxiety played at the 2002 festival, where it won a prize from French critics, and then Boe returned to the Croisette the following year with his debut feature, Reconstruction. A dazzlingly inventive and playful film, Reconstruction‘s tale of love and parallel universes in Copenhagen beguiled critics and was awarded both the Camera D’Or and the Prix Regards Jeune. Boe was celebrated as international cinema’s most precocious wunderkind, and his film played all around the world, plundering prizes – including the prestigious FIPRESCI Director of the Year award at San Sebastian Film Festival – wherever it went.
Though Boe has already made his third feature, Offscreen, it has taken until now for his sophomore effort, Allegro to make it onto screens Stateside. A companion piece to Reconstruction, and similar in its visual style and unconventional narrative approach, Allegro is, however, very much the flipside to Boe’s acclaimed debut. While Reconstruction was exhilarating and joyful in its depiction of love, Allegro is slow, pensive and melancholy: withdrawn concert pianist Zetterstrøm (Ulrich Thomsen) falls for the beautiful Andrea (Helena Christensen), but banishes all memories of his past when she leaves him suddenly. His abandoned memories are absorbed by the city of Copenhagen and preserved in The Zone, a mysterious place that seemingly none can enter. Boe’s movie uses charmingly simple animation and a playful, omniscient narrator, Tom (Henning Moritzen), to take us to another of his very original cinematic headspaces. While Allegro is arguably not as complete or satisfying a film as Boe’s first, it is a sign of the director’s talents that it is nevertheless one of the most accomplished, original and thought-provoking films of the year.
Filmmaker talked to Boe about the perils of success, his addiction to cinema, and falling asleep during D.W. Griffith movies.
Filmmaker: I’m interested in the progression of the films that you’ve made. Reconstruction was such a romantic film, but Allegro is a lot more melancholy. Were those films a reflection on what was going on in your life at the time?
Boe: My movies have gone in the exact opposite direction of my own life. I’ve become more and more happy, and my movies have become more and more depressive. Offscreen is off the charts in depression and hatred. I don’t know how the relationship works between that, but it seems like there is an outlet in my cinema for some feelings that I don’t have in my personal life.
Filmmaker: So is one always going to be the mirror image of the other?
Boe: I don’t know, it’s a tough one. These movies are now at the end of a trilogy with Offscreen: they all deal with young men and their obsession with a young woman, and this obsession in many ways being a self-created image that they become obsessed with. Which is also, of course, a reflection of my own obsession with cinema which I constantly try to detox from – though I never really seem to succeed with that. Now I’m going to go in a very different direction with the movies I’m going to make. Actually right now I’m trying to figure out how I could make movies that I think are interesting but that would be completely different from what I’ve been doing before.
Filmmaker: You just mentioned your need to detox from movies, so is watching films still an addiction for you?
Boe: I do now have a personal life, which I’ve been lacking, so in that sense I do other things than watch movies, but a lot of my thinking still revolves around cinema and how it reflects human life, how these two strange mechanisms seem to interact. In many ways, I seem to wonder if we can reach some kind of new destination with cinema, or touch upon human existence in a different way to what cinema usually does in its very schematic and sometimes very controlled, plot-oriented ways of thinking. Sometimes I feel like I’ve found the holy grail, and next week I think it’s a complete mistake and I need to try something completely different. It’s an ongoing process.
Filmmaker: I’m interested by the way you talk about taking cinema in new directions. You named your production company Alphaville, after the Jean-Luc Godard film, so presumably you feel some kinship with the French New Wave.
Boe: They are the masters of modern cinema. This is not anything about quality of the works that they did and I did, it’s just that the spirit in which they made movies is a spirit that I feel very connected with. It’s a spirit of great love of cinema, but also of responsibility. And it’s a connection with the great traditions of cinema, but also a desire and a need to reevaluate and reinvent some of those conventions.
Filmmaker: Your films are also very literary. Were you a great reader when you were younger?
Boe: When I was younger, I read a lot. I wouldn’t say I do that more now, I’m usually reading non-fiction books. But still my interest in novels has been in actuality the New French Literature of the ’60s, Georges Perec and the style movement of those people. But I would say that one of the reasons that my first two movies have been literary is the fact that they’re playing with the nature of the game of control and destiny, and that’s very much about the role of the author. In my worldview, there is no God – but there are directors.
Filmmaker: Reconstruction was such a huge success. Was that something that surprised you, and were you prepared for the consequences of that success?
Boe: Whenever you’re making movies, you are an egomaniac and think you’re the world, so it felt very natural to me [laughs] that people should enjoy it. Afterwards, making now two more movies, I found that it’s not the nature of the game always to be appreciated. But the good thing I did after Reconstruction, which I learned by watching my fellow Danish directors, was instead of taking the world tour of the movie and being hailed at different festivals, I just started working. And I’ve been working ever since. So I make a movie, it comes out, and when it comes out I’m basically working on the next one – which I think is the way to do it. Otherwise you really do get wrapped up in whether it’s a big success or not a big success and it becomes very strenuous to begin the next one with all the expectations and all the getting yourself into a daily work routine.
Filmmaker: What are the aims for each film that you make?
Boe: First of all, of making the greatest movie ever made – but that’s a failure from the get-go. But it’s also very much to capture a specific kind of mood which I have enjoyed in different kinds of movies. It’s very much about defining one kind of emotional thing which I may have found in a picture, or a piece of music, or in different movies, that’s an inspirational thing for the movie that I’m making, and then it’s trying to make an entire movie about that one thing. Some would say it’s a very stupid idea, but I like movies that in themselves are obsessive. I think my movies are about people who are somehow obsessed, but they are themselves obsessed about themselves as movies, but also about trying to work with this one thing that they are concerned with.
Filmmaker: Tell me about The Zone in Allegro. To what extent is that a homage to Tarkovsky’s Stalker?
Boe: The movie began out of a very different place. I wrote it with one of my old friends, and he’s a stand-up comedian, so it started out as a very cheerful kind of comedy. But then I worked with it and it was obvious it was going to get a bit bigger and it was going to take more time. I couldn’t see myself doing something very slight, so the whole Zone idea came in. It seemed to me so obvious that I wouldn’t want to do this without making a reference to the greatest science fiction director of all time, because I think he essentially worked with the key elements of science fiction, the key elements of human existence and portraying them in a science fiction sphere. For me, science fiction is not about gadgets, it’s the big “what if?” question. And the “what if?” is if human existence was somehow be composed in a different way, how would we look then and how can that make a perspective on us now? So that’s why The Zone was named The Zone. Had it not been named The Zone, I don’t think the reference to Tarkovsky would have been that obvious. It’s a very different kind of strange movie.
Filmmaker: Are you ever totally satisfied with your films? Reconstruction was such a huge success and seemed to be universally loved, but how did you feel about it?
Boe: I really don’t look back. When I make a movie, it’s a closure on something I want to deal with, but I don’t look back on when I was very successful. Obviously I tend to look at what people don’t like. There was a lot of stuff that people said about Reconstruction and even more so about Allegro. Obviously I try to listen to that because there might be something wrong with the way that I work with some of the ideas, but I don’t look back in the sense that it’s never Le Mépris. It’s never Godard.
Filmmaker: How is it being a Danish director at the moment? There are a lot of prominent Danish directors now and there seems to be a sense of community because of things like Dogme ’95 and Advance Party, and also Mogens Rukov, who has worked with you and Lars von Trier and many others.
Boe: I wouldn’t say there is this great feeling of community. I guess that people who work with Zentropa [Lars von Trier’s production company] have a much more filmic communal thing, but I always insisted on working in Copenhagen, because I can’t leave. The inner city of Copenhagen to me is all foreign land, and it doesn’t make sense to me to work there or live there, so actually if there is a community I’m not really a part of it.
Filmmaker: If you could travel back in time and be able to make movies in a time and place of your choice, where and when would it be?
Boe: Off the top of my head, I would go back to Copenhagen in the 1750s and film Nikolai Eigtved, who built the Copenhagen that I love.
Filmmaker: If the world ended tomorrow, what (if anything) would you be sad about that you hadn’t achieved?
Boe: Ummmm… I’m speechless, I don’t know what to say. I don’t actually think I have many regrets, but I don’t have much work which I’m very fond of yet. So it’s not a question of work; I’ve only just begun. That whole thing to me is still in its beginning phase. So any regrets would be in my private life. I have many regrets, but also many wonderful things to say.
Filmmaker: Which classic film are you most ashamed to admit you’ve never seen?
Boe: That would be Birth of a Nation – I’ve slept through it every time I’ve put it on. I’ve slept through it not once but several times, which is something that I will have to work with.