There are all kinds of reasons why a film might fail to hold a viewer’s attention. It could be trite, it could be plodding, it could be directed by Brett Ratner. But the worst thing a movie can do, unless, of course, it is actively trying to alienate its audience, is to offer us nothing to identify with. Not that movies need to follow rules (or even should for that matter), but it does seem like a hefty risk to create a narrative around a series of flat, tiresome, and thoroughly unlikely characters. Unless you’re a pretty dynamite filmmaker, this is not likely to work out for you.
Allegro, Danish director Christopher Boe’s calculated post-modern fantasy, works like a lesson in how not to draw characters. Revolving around a barely-there concert pianist named Zetterstrom (Ulrich Thomsen) who has suppressed his unhappy memories after a painful breakup with Andrea (Helena Christensen), Allegro is a pseudo-meditation on memory, loss, and artistry. But, it is also a deeply pretentious science-fiction film, as Zetterstom’s memory is actually being held captive in a Tarkovsky-esque area of Copenhagen called The Zone. And, since without his memory he has become a poor pianist, technically brilliant but lacking passion, Zetterstrom is compelled to enter the Zone and retrieve his past.
When Michel Gondry made this movie, it was called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And it was filled with interesting, likable, expressive characters that engaged us and made us feel. In Boe’s semi-direct rip-off of Gondry’s vastly superior (and let’s face it, much more intelligent) film, there is simply no one worth feeling anything about. The pianist is (necessarily for a guy without passion) a colossal bore, delivering lines like a sleepwalking corpse. But he’s positively Richard Simmons alongside Helena Christensen’s limp object of his affection. She makes weird faces, pouts, and looks pensive, and barely speaks. There is nothing about her character that we learn (apart from that she’s unhappy) before she leaves/falls into the river/kills herself (it isn’t really clear). Why we’re meant to care about her is even less clear. Worst of all, the film is narrated by an obnoxiously smug man/god/overlord who seems to be enjoying himself immensely even as we wonder what’s going on. It’s like he’s making fun of us.
A film whose central artistic conceit is “borrowed” from a great Russian director (the concept of The Zone is lifted clean out of Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film-school staple) and whose intellectual premise parrots a hugely popular Hollywood movie seems unlikely to add anything new to the table. Apart from a severely misguided overuse of dissolves (an effect that has the persistent consequence of making the film look like an episode of Miami Vice), there isn’t much to speak of.