Rome was not built in a day. And the Danish filmmaker Christoffer Boe’s 2003 debut feature, Reconstruction, swiftly robs what little is left of the Eternal City’s claim as the centripetal locus of classical Western ideals. If anything, Boe’s Rome is mythic, one that exists as a mere idea in the mind of the film’s confused protagonist. In a deliberately rudderless film that constantly verges on disintegration, the fall of Rome, in both the classical and the modern sense, symbolizes the end of traditional Western sense of order.

One random evening and out of the blue, Alex, a ruggedly handsome young man with a charming sense of vulnerability, leaves his girlfriend Simone stranded in a subway train to chase after a beautiful stranger named Aimee. He suggests that they flee to Rome together—the Rome of La Dolce Vita and Roman Holiday. It later turns out that Simone and Aimee are played by the same actress; however, the film never tells us whether they are actually the same woman.

Furthermore, Aimee’s husband August happens to be a successful older novelist who also moonlights as the film’s omniscient narrator. Such complications abound in this film, which forces the audience to view classical ideas concerning romance through a lens that has been shattered and reconstructed. What we see are distorted fragments, through which we must try to make sense of what love and romance mean in our age that curiously and uncomfortably promotes both cynicism and fantasy.

Refreshingly enough, Boe somehow succeeds in presenting the film’s disjointed nonlinear meta-narrative in an accessible way. The result is a film that does not indulge in its own incomprehensibility but one that effectively investigates the incomprehensibility of its primary theme. Inventive and avant-garde both textually and texturally, the film smolders in its overtly grainy images and saturated colors. Ultimately, Boe synthesizes influences as disparate as Franz Kafka, Stan Brakhage, and Gaspar Noé to compose a haunting threnody to a bygone world in which people thought they could define love.

As original as the film is in its approach to the exploration of love, one could quibble that it broaches the subject in a patriarchal manner. The entire film, after all, could be the writings of August, a man hopelessly stuck in the era when men like the learned male paramours in Milan Kundera novels defined the concept of love for males and females alike. Or the film could just be a collection of fantasies that all red-blooded straight males like Alex attach to attractive female strangers they encounter in their daily lives. Women are still wooed, wined, and dined. They are still the trophy wives and the objects of men’s sexual fantasies.

Perhaps the kind of chivalrous romance that once existed in the hearts and minds of the Western man can no longer exist as a reality. Boe captures the whole notion as a mirage, in the blurred neon lights of a pretty yet dreary Copenhagen captured on the grainiest celluloid. Even something as fundamental as love has become a mere construct in our postmodern age where nothing stands for what it signifies.