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Melancholia – review

Melancholia

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Melancholia is the new film from Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier, part of the avant-garde Dogme 95 approach to film-making.  It begins with images like that of a Pink Floyd album cover, with an operatic film score from German composer Richard Wagner.  Slow motion capture scenes of Kirsten Dunst (Justine) are interlaced along with images of what appears to be a cataclysmic event, as something collides into the earth.The film then cuts itself in to two parts.  The first part follows Justine on her wedding day as she marries Michael (Alexander Skarsgard of True Blood). They are on their way to a very extravagant and decadent reception, that was mostly payed for by her brother in law John (Kiefer Sutherland) a scientist.  John doesn’t let her forget how expensive it is during the course of the first half of the film.  John Hurt plays her absent-minded father Dexter,  Stellan Skarsgard her money driven father-in-law and boss, Charlotte Gainsbourg her sister Claire, and Charlotte Rampling her mother Gaby.  During the course of the reception we learn of the fractured dynamic between Justine’s father and mother.  Her mother does not believe in the sanctity of marriage, and is a little off her rocker  as are most of the members at play, all in their own way.As the night progresses Justine continually ducks out from her duties at the party, upsetting many people, especially John who payed for the event to be perfect.  She sets off to be alone.  There is something deeper going on with her then we realize, something that is most likely known amongst the members of her family.  Each of the characters have their motives as the reception progresses.  Melancholia plays out like some fucked up, depressed version of Rules of the Game, or Gosford Park. As the characters interact we begin to decipher pieces of the puzzle and understand these relationships at play.  Justine begins to act crazier and crazier, perhaps because she has the ability to sense something greater is about to happen.

In the second part of the film we follow Justine’s sister Claire.  We begin to see and learn even more about all of the relationships in the first part of the film, but through her eyes. The relationship between Claire and John is at the forefront in this section.  We also begin to learn more about the greater plan in the film.  The second half of the film definitely separates itself from the first half, and I’m not sure how much I liked that in the scope of the film as a whole.  However, I think the two portions of the film work very well as independent companion pieces to each other.

A lot of people have been talking about Kirsten Dunst’s performance in this film, and it is quite amazing. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, but I think it is Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performance here that is really something special.  She continues from her steller work in Antichrist, as a fragile woman who completely breaks down because of all that she is surrounded with.

Von Trier’s films are so natural, that you find yourself living inside of them.  Of course they can be a little tedious at times, but it’s because he takes that time to make us understand every characters disposition.  He is an expert in character study, much like the late Robert Altman was.  His films are haunting and always with purpose.  I’m always intrigued how he is able to create scenes that are so full of beauty, but have a feeling of impending doom about them as well.

Von Trier is my favorite kind of director.  He borrows from the past, most notably in Melancholia from Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece The Sacrifice* (see footnote), but makes films his own creation.  While Melancholia is not his best work (still better than most though), I feel that it is probably his most accesible work.  His films like Dogville and Antichrist have a tendency to push away your average film-goer.   Von Trier continue’s to prove here that he is one of the finest directors making films today, and that he is a director making a concentrated effort to make them thought provoking.

Grade:  A-


Spoiler * Spoiler * Spoiler





The Sacrifice and Melancholia are two films that are very similar in nature.  However I feel that one explores the beauty in small things that occur in life, most notably from nature and that which surrounds us.  The other, I believe, is a study on the insignificance of life and the role that science plays within it, along with the idea of the absence of god.  These are two films that I would love to critique, or at least have a discussion about as how they relate to each other.  If the end of the world were truly upon us, then these two films are amazing portrayals of how we may react.