Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Directed by Christoffer Boe
Koch Entertainment

The films of legendary Soviet film director and eventual defector Andrei Tarkovsky were renowned for the degree to which past intrudes on present, to the point of problematizing conceptions of reality. They were not known especially for their use of music. Ironically his films have recently inspired the compositions of Francois Couturier, and Christoffer Boe’s film Allegro, in which classical music plays an important role.

As in Takovsky’s Stalker, there is a mysterious region known as “the Zone,” but instead of the Russian wilderness, Allegro’s forbidden Zone is an otherworldly addition to the Copenhagen city center. Bordered by invisible force-fields prohibiting entry, the sudden appearance of the Zone seems to correspond to the loss of the memories of the emotionally frozen concert pianist Zetterstrom.

Hurt by the loss of his lover Andrea, Zetterstrom has withdrawn from all meaningful human contact, pursuing technical perfection at the piano. Zetterstrom is a Glenn Gould raised to multiple powers, insisting on screens to mask him from the audience, lest the visual aspect of his performance interfere with music itself.

Eventually, Zetterstrom returns to Copenhagen to seek his lost memories in the Zone, with the help of a strange host, who also serves as the film’s narrator. Allegro is a film which defies easy summarization. Ultimately, it is difficult to say what is really “real,” and what is illusion, but everything which unfolds on screen is undoubtedly real to Zetterstrom. Fortunately, unlike recent films by David Lynch, Boe has no problems giving some narrative structure for viewers to follow, even providing an animated timeline of Zetterstrom’s life.

Ulrich Thomsen, perhaps best known to American audiences as the truth-telling sibling Christian in the Dogma 95 picture The Celebration, is excellent in the challenging role of Zetterstrom, suggesting the confusion buried somewhere deep beneath the glacial protective shell. Supermodel Helena Christensen nicely conveys the sensitivity of the beautiful Andrea. Almost as important as the actors is the rich cinematography of Manuel Alberto Claro, who makes the buildings of Copenhagen at night glow with a sense of mystery.

If you require uncomplicated, linear narratives, sorry, Allegro just won’t work for you. However, if you enjoy storylines which feature some psychological gamesmanship, you will be fascinated by Allegro. Think of it as a blend of Tarkovsky’s hyper-real science fiction films like Stalker and Solaris, mixed with Un Coeur en Hiver’s drama of arrested emotional development. Like the Claude Sautet film, Allegro uses classical music motifs effectively, providing real keys to understanding the lead character.

Borrowing a page from Woody Allen, Boe has a fictional music critic address the camera mock-documentary style at one point, to give this assessment of Zetterstrom: “He is a great pianist. Outstanding. No doubt about that. Technically speaking . . . But where is his passion?”

He may have achieved technical perfection, but his emotional interpretation is lacking. The Zetterstrom we meet could only be a classical musician, and never an improvising jazz double threat like André Previn or Friedrich Gulda. Elegantly crafted and rich in detail, Allegro is a challenging, but rewarding film that uses music in interesting ways to tell its surreal tale.