Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Rated: R

Stars: Kirsten Dunst,  Charlotte Gainsbourg,  Kiefer Sutherland,  John Hurt,  Charlotte Rampling

Director: Lars von Trier

Genre: Art House/ Sci-fi-/ Drama  

Slap the Art House label onto a film and it can compensate for a multitude of movie making sins.  Doesn't need to have much of a plot. Doesn't need to employ a lot of imagination, as long as the characters are quirky. And the camera work can appear so amateurish and unsteady that half the time when you're supposed to be looking at someone's face,  you're looking at their belly button. But all this is normally overlooked by fans of the genre if something truly memorable stays with you.(The Brown Bunny , for example, is a film that will send you right to Snoozeville--until Chloe Sevigny  blows you away at the end!) Lars von Trier's  Melancholia answers to all of the above criticisms,  but what saves it are some elements of black comedy,  some fine performances from an impressive cast, and its gorgeous cinematography.

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is a severely depressed young woman. Not a good time to get married, but what the hell. Her wedding reception at the palatial estate of her sister, Claire, (Charlotte Gainsbourg--who must be seen in von Trier's Antichrist to fully grasp how far she will go to give a gritty performance) and brother-in-law, John, (Kiefer Sutherland) comprises the entire first act of the film. 

Here we are introduced to some of  the aforementioned colorful folk: Justine's dad, (John Hurt) who feigns lifting  fancy silverware and slipping it into his suit pocket;  John, who keeps reminding everyone of how much this lavish affair is setting him back; and Justine's acid-tongued mother, (Charlotte Rampling) who gives a cringe-worthy speech about how she abhors the institution of marriage. (Rampling, who  starred in many a film back in the day,  where her main criterion for taking the role was that her character be NAKED, is now reduced to bit parts playing embittered old biddies. Would have been funny had she  hopped up on the table--with everyone yelling TAKE IT OFF BABY--and gladly obliged once more for old time's sake...but that might not have played with the younger crowd!)

Anyhoo,  things get  progressively worse for Justine. She tells her boss to shove it.  She ducks out of the proceedings to take a leisurely bath. She parries the amorous advances of her groom (Alexander Skarsgard). The evening is falling apart,  but things aren't as bad as they're gonna be, because people start taking notice of this funny looking planet, "Melancholia,"  that is heading our way. There are mixed opinions from the experts as to whether there will be a near miss, or whether the planet is on a collision course with earth.   

The second half of the movie belongs to Claire. While Justine has taken a so what,  the earth is evil and we'd likely be better off attitude about this development, (remember, she's depressed) Claire grows increasingly fearful for herself and her young son, Leo (Cameron Spurr).   

We see no news reports about the advance of the planet,  which looks strangely like our own earth, by the way. No shots of people running through the streets or heading for the mountaintops, though John--the amateur astronomer--does begin stockpiling some survival supplies, while assuring everyone there's nothing to worry about. .  

Bits of  information come via the internet,  but there is an eerie disconnect between this assemblage and the outside world . At first the  impending crisis seems almost secondary, as they're all caught up in their own personal stuff-- like most of us--until the things that really matter loom large enough that they can no longer be ignored. The doppelganger earth on a collision course with our own appears to be a not so subtle metaphor for the path we humans have set upon to destroy ourselves.    

In the end, Claire invokes  a bit of "magic."  The magic wasn't quite there for me--in my overall assessment of Melancholia--but it is still a film worth seeing. Just be sure to watch it with a friend, because you're going to want to discuss it afterward.  

Grade:  B