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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Melancholia

It is infuriating how much Lars von Trier let's his ego and big mouth ruin many of his films. Sure the whole Cannes debacle surrounding this film might have been surprising, but it wasn't shocking. From von Trier, it is almost to be expected. As a result of episodes like this, I find it even harder to like his already difficult films; almost as if I don't want to like them. The man shows nothing but contempt for his audience, so why should I show nothing but contempt for him? Von Trier's last film Antichrist, was horrific for all the wrong reasons. Very unpleasant and shocking only for the sense that he put those unspeakable things on screen merely to provoke than for any true artistic statement. However he has proven himself to be capable of memorable works before, as I'm sure he will be again. It's just that I wish his gobby mouth wouldn't make me question the validity of his work; is he a clueless sap, who occasionally lucks out by working with talented people, or is he a true revolutionary genius in cinema? I've not made up my mind and in truth I probably never will. His films will continue to provoke outrage and debate. One thing is for sure; they will always be memorable. Here he finds himself working within the loose realm of science fiction. Not that true science bears any effect on the storyline, von Trier decides rather to have it metaphorically inform the picture and instead focus on the social embarrassment and human melodrama that he specialises so well in. Here that metaphor as macguffin is the rather enormous rogue planet of Melancholia, that threatens to engulf planet Earth any day now. Of course, it is almost half way in until anyone even mentions this; von Trier instead opens on a (disastrous) wedding in part 1 and introduces our two sister characters, along with a range of entertaining supporting characters. The melancholia here is Dunst's Justine; struggling with depression and destined to forever push away those she loves. Symbolism is rife and when the destructive planet rears it's head in part 2, it is merely an extension of Justine's psyche made physical. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, melancholia will eventually engulf all. Von Trier is about as suble as a hammer to the head, but to his credit, he explores Justine's mental state very well. Dunst is stunning and in the more showy of the two roles (Charlotte Gainsbourg thankfully is stretched no where near her Antichrist limits) she handles it beautifully, eliciting both emotion and understanding from the audience, even when she does some pretty unforgivable things. As Gainsbourg takes center stage in part 2, we instead focus on the isolated estate as the impending doom draws ever closer and the stakes are ratcheted up. We are in fairly straightforward von Trier territory here and there is nothing as polarising as some of his previous features have been. While events are still pretentious (it's a Lars von Trier film!) it is somehow relevant to the gloomy goings on in both the film and planet. Apart from a quite beautifully shot and surreal opening, the man shies away from anything too ostentatious and instead let's the films themes do the talking. It is certainly dour throughout; (in a film called Melancholia how could it not be?!) but thankfully there are a few moments of understated humour highlighting the innate ridiculousness of it all. At the end of the day the film is absolutely stunning to look at and features fantastic acting from all involved. It's just that the inherent kitschiness of it all engulfs proceedings at times. What is certain is that after watching the beauty of Melancholia, it won't be forgotten in a hurry.

Verdict: 7/10
Handsomely shot with a stunning performance from Dunst. Von Trier courts controversy wherever he goes but where he not so prone to incomprehensible ego-laden outbursts, his films would have a better chance of standing up for themselves. Anyone who hated the man before should stay well away, but for others this is an original and very memorable dissection of depression. God certainly loves a Trier.

"Melancholia" Trailer

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