'Melancholia' (dir: Lars von Trier, 2011) Cert: 15
The world's favourite cinematic scamp Lars von Trier is back with another film about his specialist subject - depression. After making an idiot out of himself by being made a "persona non grata" at this year's Festival de Cannes for joking about being a Nazi, 'Melancholia' has had an unsettled atmosphere surrounding it and considering it is being labelled as a companion piece to his sadistically brilliant but audience-dividing 'Antichrist' (2009), will his latest spark those same reactions that he enjoys so much?
As the picture opens, viewers are greeted by Melancholia; a enormous and newly discovered planet that has forced it's way through the cosmos and makes full contact with the Earth causing the end of the world. A few days before the disaster, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) have just married and are heading to their reception party organised by Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). However, Justine's wedding day is far from conventional and happy as she soon spirals into a endless pit of depression and as the threatening planet gets closer to civilization, things are not about to get brighter.
Considering a fundamental theme in this picture is the earth's apocalypse, this is amongst von Trier's kinder works but much like 'Antichrist' and 'Dogville' (2003) and 'Dancer in the Dark' (2000) and 'Breaking the Waves' (1996) and pretty much any other film in his filmography, 'Melancholia' is about a woman in an extraordinarily cruel position in life and her means about getting past it or coming to terms with it. As a companion piece to his last feature, this film sits comfortably alongside it and shows two sides to the world we live in and the menace it creates. Both films are also greatly similar in style, tone and construction. They both open with a horrific event caught in slow motion and aided by classical music, they both are separated into 'chapters' and they both feature Charlotte Gainsbourg, but don't fret, her genitals stay in tact here and her character does not meet a talking fox.
Lars' latest is a blend of beauty, chaos and awkwardness which translates magically onto the screen. He takes the audience on a mysterious and damaged journey lasting a breathtaking 136 minutes which seems to disappear one moment and then become so apparent the next. Bearing in mind that the only location used in this picture besides a few shots of space is Claire and John's home which is more of a palace with an 18 hole golf course than a three bedroom semi-detached, it feels awfully long at points and one is certain that many editors would have cut about 30 minutes out, but this being said, this is an arthouse movie which audiences expect to be slow and in fact I'm glad von Trier and his team have not hacked it to bits. The film is soaked with stunning cinematography, plush foliage and expertly designed sets which mirror the marvel of his assured direction and the feature's length allows audiences to spend valuable time amongst all this.
|Still from 'Melancholia' (dir: Lars von Trier, 2011)|
Many have dubbed 'Melancholia' as a Sci-Fi which one finds terribly strange. Admittedly, space is a big part in one sense and this film does plays out like 'Festen' (1998) meets 'Deep Impact' (1998) but underneath the ever emerging threat of the planet lies a greatly detailed and deeply affecting character drama which studies the human psyche and enables audiences to understand what it's like for somebody dealing with depression, and more importantly how it affects those around them and the world in which they are a part of. It's fairly obvious that Melancholia is not meant to be a gastronomical space atom wanting to see the world burn, it's merely a metaphor for Justine's dizzying sadness which consumes her. Justine's depression is causing the end of the world because the world she lives in is unhappy with itself too.
There's a beautiful moment where she lays down in front of the starry night and the glowing from Melancholia and almost pulls the planet closer to her - it's like the only thing that understands her suffering and thus she wants it to be in 'her' atmosphere. It's bold and brave writing and direction from the Dane and it's executed with tremendous style and substance.
Lars is infamous for getting stunning performances from his cast and his team provide the goods here - Dunst, who picked up the Best Actress award at Cannes this year (after von Trier had been thrown out) is simply sublime. It's amazing to think this is the girl from 'Bring It On' (2000 - which one is actually quite a fan of) - she has turned into a stunning actress and her role as the bruised and emotionally tormented Justine is by far her finest performance to date. If this film wasn't so avant-garde, she would most probably gain an Oscar nomination. Still, she might do as there is still plenty of time.
Gainsbourg is brilliant too and seems to be becoming a crucial cog in von Trier's works - Claire is a compassionate if what inquisitive woman who is terrified for her sister's well-being and the potential threat from Melancholia. John Hurt makes a brief but great performance as the sister's father, Skarsgard is also extremely capable and assured as Michael who has a pretty rough time at his wedding and Charlotte Rampling pops up as the spiteful and loathing Gaby; the girls' unsympathetic mother. But the best performance alongside Dunst is Sutherland's portrayal of John; a kind man with a stern edge, sarcastic wit and an obsession with outer space. His constant reminders to Justine about money and how much effort went into her reception provides some brief comic relief but most importantly defines his character. Sutherland gives an amazing performance indeed.
'Melancholia' is a tremendously haunting, audacious and elegant work from a filmmaker who may be a pain in society, but is a spiritualist behind the camera. It will not appeal to everyone and that's exactly what von Trier sets out to do, but for those who enjoy melodic and melodramatic features, this will capture and dazzle. It's become apparent that von Trier himself isn't entirely satisfied with the film and he is wrong for those thoughts. Both 'Antichrist' and 'Melancholia' are stunning entries and proof that no matter how dark or distressed the subject matter may be, there is beauty at the end of the tunnel.
Lars' latest is a meditation of depression and self-loathing that's drenched in visceral and emotional wonder. A tremendous achievement.
By Chris Haydon