Monday, 10 December 2012

The Last Embrace

A note on the final scene from Hr. Boe & Co's Everything Will Be Fine (2010) 


The films of the Danish writer/director Christoffer Boe have, up to this point at least, played with the idea of fiction as a reflection of reality; where stories are created as an attempt to make sense of some painful or unspeakable emotional truth, and where the characters find themselves unsure of their own role as protagonists in a strange and unfathomable story, which throughout seems to have been designed for their own benefit and dictated by the whims of an unseen yet omnipotent force. 

In his very first feature-length film, the acclaimed Reconstruction (2003), the idea of a profound blurring of the line between fiction and reality found an expression in the parallel stories of a young couple falling in and out of love, and a middle-aged novelist realising that his wife is leaving him for a younger man. As the stories develop and overlap, we begin to suspect that the young couple are not just figures that appear on the fringes of the writer’s existence, but are the central characters from a novel currently being written. The writer is telling his own story, which becomes the story “on-screen”, but the characters he creates are unable to accept that they are avatars in a world of fiction, and at the mercy of this unknown and all-powerful “god.”

As ever, reality and fiction become one, as Boe and his co-writer Mogens Rukov create a feeling of almost dreamlike abstraction, as both the characters and the audience are left to question the integrity of this “reality” when presented via the inherent “unreality” of film, as a medium.

Reconstruction [Christoffer Boe, 2003]:  
The same idea reoccurs in Boe’s follow-up film, the near-masterpiece Allegro (2005), co-written by Mikael Wulff, in which a talented musician, unable or unwilling to face the tragedies of his past, finds himself at the mercy of “the zone”; a metaphorical netherworld hidden within the centre of a futuristic Copenhagen, where mysterious forces are conspiring to put his life back on track. 

In both these films, the “meta” aspect is fairly direct. Third person narration is used to suggest the perspective of “the author”, or the storyteller, who creates a distance between the audience and the work by taking the most painful and tragic elements of these characters’ lives and turning them into something almost like a storybook or an old-fashioned fable. We know from just about the very first scene that what we are watching is an interplay between the real – or “the real” within the context of the work -and the purely fictitious, and throughout there is an almost unspoken acknowledgement of a certain manufacturing or manipulation of events. 

If his follow-up film to Allegro was ultimately a disappointment, it nonetheless spun these particular concerns in an entirely different and sometimes disturbing new direction. In Offscreen (2006), Boe’s most difficult and provocative work to date, the director would further blur the line between reality and fantasy, but in a way that had a far greater resonance to the world in which we live. Gone was the dazzling ‘scope photography and the lush wintery colours of both Reconstruction and Allegro (and with it that sense of poetic melancholy that seemed to evoke the best of early Godard or late Wong Kar-wai), replaced instead by a deliberately ugly home video aesthetic – badly lit and often poorly framed – as if attempting to physically capture the damaged psyche of its central character through the imperfections of the film.

Offscreen could be described as David Holzman’s Diary (1967) by way of Gaspar Noé, as the director and his collaborators use the most familiar tropes of the found-footage genre to trace the gradual mental deterioration of the actor Nicolas Bro. Here, real life and violent fiction are once again made uncertain as Bro acts out his own breakdown, all the while documenting his personal descent on a borrowed handheld camera. Though the film didn’t work for me, this attempt to strip away the more ornate or artificial aspects of the films that came before succeeded in giving the ‘meta fiction’ aspect of Boe’s work a genuinely psychological edge. Now the construction of the film went beyond a simple analysis of the role of the narrator (or the emotional conflict of a character unable to accept his own role as an invention in a pre-determined world) to suggest deeper issues, like the role that the cinema (and movies in general) plays in providing an escape for characters (real or fictitious), who find in the experience of a film an element of self-reflection. 

This suggestion creates the foundation for the various existential quandaries raised by the film in question. Everything Will Be Fine (2010), like Reconstruction, once again spins two parallel stories that tangle and intersect. The two stories entwine in the standard thriller format, but throughout there is the subtle suggestion that at least one of these stories is not what it appears.

At the end of Boe’s fourth feature-length film, the protagonists – tortured film director Falk (Jens Albinus) and his sensitive wife Helena (Marijana Jancovic) – enter a movie theatre. They sit down to watch a film, embracing, momentarily, as the screen flickers to life. However, instead of the familiar presentation that we as an audience might expect when sitting down to see a movie, the screen is instead enveloped by a cloud of silvery mist. As the couple watch, enthralled by the spectacle “on-screen”, traces of a confetti-like glitter begin to filter out towards them, enshrouding the couple, blanketing them as they stare inertly towards the infinite void of the frame.

Everything Will Be Fine [Christoffer Boe, 2010]:

The scene is extraordinary for several reasons. Even without context it provides a moment of “unreality” that stands out from the rest of the film’s more conventionally cinematic approach. Hitchcock is an obvious influence on the more predictable genre elements – the soldier, the conspiracy, the plunge into obsession – but this moment goes beyond all that; building instead on a third act revelation that changes the nature of everything we’ve seen, plunging the film (almost) into the realms of pure fantasy! It doesn’t just stand out against the “reality” of everything else, it opens the film up, creating new avenues of interpretation, suggesting the deeper psychological implications faced by these characters, while also bringing to a close a particular thread that runs throughout these early films, where everything is in some way related to that experience of the cinema, where fiction once again becomes a reflection of our reality.
Within this context, the final scene of the film becomes, in some small way, Boe’s ultimate tribute to the role that the cinema plays in creating a threshold between the real and the unreal, and in this sense, suggestive of the various other accepted connotations of escapism or self-reflection that the cinema might propose. In this scene, this moment, the characters find peace of mind in an expression of pure cinema; here, the film, or the experience of it, not only lifts the spirits, it becomes something that is almost reassuring, like the title, and its not always obvious affirmation that ‘everything will be fine’, if only for a moment.