MELANCHOLIA (Dir. Lars von Trier, 2011)
It would be an understatement to say that I’ve had issues with the films of Lars von Trier. DANCER IN THE DARK depressed the Hell out of me, DOGVILLE supremely weirded me out, and I felt like I had been assaulted by his last film, ANTICHRIST.
But I actually found myself enjoying good sized chunks of Trier’s latest: MELANCHOLIA. It’s a much gentler film than he’s done before, even as it depicts the destruction of all mankind, and it contains beautiful sequences of visually poetic shots, so it’s got that going for it too.
Don’t get me wrong – this is not a complete rave. I still have issues, like the meandering narrative, the abundance of questionable cuts, the discarded story threads and characters, and it’s way too long at 135 min.
Still, it’s a Helluva half a good film – Trier’s most watchable, and least abrasive yet.
In a performance that starts off flighty but grows into her finest yet, Kirsten Dunst as a woman on her wedding day at her sister’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law’s (Kiefer Sutherland) opulent estate.
Dunst’s new husband is played by Alexander Skarsgård, son of Stellan Skarsgård, who is also in the film as Dunst’s arrogant asshole employer. An icy Charlotte Rampling and a charmingly daft John Hurt appear as the bride’s divorced parents, mostly seen in the wedding reception party that Dunst can’t seem to stay 2 minutes at.
This is fairly typical dysfunctional family drama stuff, but it’s lifted by the palpable tension especially between the sisters, Dunst and Gainsbourg.
It’s not until over an hour into the film that we learn about the approaching planet named Melancholia that Sutherland, whose hobby happens to be astronomy, keeps assuring his worried wife is going to closely pass (a “fly-by” he calls it) but not collide with Earth.
We know he’s wrong from opening visual overture of sorts, that mostly shows slow motion shots of imagery from throughout the film, set to Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” prelude, in which we see the small planet of Melancholia smashing into Earth.
I can see why some folks were disappointed Dunst didn’t get nominated for an Academy Award for her part in this film (MELANCHOLIA didn’t get any Oscar noms btw). She’s more invested and believable than I’ve witnessed before, and she does the artsy nude scenes fearlessly – it’s Lars von Trier, so we’ve got to have a shots of somebody naked laying in a forest.
Whether one will appreciate MELANCHOLIA depends on one’s interest in (or tolerance of) long weird art films. I liked it more than I thought I would, and its impression has lingered with me (not in a bad way) since I’ve seen it, so color me mildly impressed - which is so much better than being depressed, weirded out, or assaulted.
Special Features: Featurettes -“About MELANCHOLIA,” “The Universe,” “The Visual Style,” “Visual Effects,” HDNet: A Look at MELANCHOLIA,” and Theatrical Trailers.