Melancholia

15 Dec

Title: Melancholia
Year: 2011
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Jesper Christensen, Stellan Skarsgard, Brady Corbet
MPAA Rating: R, some graphic nudity, sexual content and language
Runtime: 136 min
IMDb Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

 

Oh what a great, great film Melancholia is. A Top 10 of the year so far for me, just a brilliant film from the often polarizing, yet always outstanding Lars von Trier, a man who made headlines in May of this year when he went to Cannes to premiere this film and made some controversial comments that got him banned from the festival for the rest of his days. The festival however, didn’t shun the film, as Kirsten Dunst came out as winner of their Best Actress trophy, and by god was that a wholly deserved win for her. For all its little missteps (and they’re very little since I believe this film to be close to perfect) Melancholia can always count on Ms. Dunst to rock the socks out of everybody, her performance is one of the best this year, an absolute marvel to watch her for over two hours.

That role Ms. Dunst plays here was originally to be played by Penélope Cruz, who made the stupid, money-grabbing decision to go and do the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie (to which I gave a C+ to) instead. And while I’m actually sure Ms. Cruz would have also delivered in this role, we’re better off with Kirsten Dunst, an actress I’ve loved since forever and who I was ecstatic to have back after a short absence in last year’s All Good Things, a film I gave a B+ to and that had really fine performances from both her and Ryan Gosling. She’s the perfect muse for Lars von Trier, a director with one of the most peculiar visions working today who guides us through a deep state of depression in this film, while the apocalypse dooms ever so close as the planet Melancholia is heading towards Earth.

Yes, the film is certainly very bizarre and considering it goes on for nearly two hours and twenty minutes there will be times when it drags along a bit, but all of that is worth forgetting for the instances in which this film is just so masterful, so awe-inspiring, it’s just a beauty to behold. Not to mention that, even if you fall on the other side of the fence and think this movie is too strange, too gloomy, if you mistake its overwhelming power for something you just can’t get, you’ll still have a hard time forgetting the experience of having watched it, and that’s what marks this one’s absolute greatness.

By giving us his apocalyptic vision in a smaller scope Mr. von Trier sees the end of the world in a very intimate way and not the epic grand statements most films that deal with that topic usually do. The result is a film that’s much more enchanting than anything he’s done in the past, a much more romantic side to the director that I thought was just a real treat to watch. When the film begins and you get to hear Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”  along with those striking images you’ll be witnessing one of the best uses of music in film this year. The magic of those opening moments is more than enough to get you through the perhaps more tedious middle section of the film, but please stay with this film even in those parts, as the payoff that comes forth in the end is undeniably stunning.

It’s just amazing to me that such a fine director could have looked so far within himself, as he’s been open about battling with addiction for some years, and deliver such a beautiful film. A film that speaks about depression while looking at the obsession two sisters have with this planet called Melancholia. And I loved that it focused so closely on just a few people, because if you think about films about the end of the world, there’s always be a lot of talk about the media coverage and overall frenzy of the worldwide population about, with that typical montage of news stations all over the world speaking of it in different languages. Instead we focus on deeper emotions experienced by just a few, and in this film the end of the world is, contrary to what one may assume, a beautiful thing.

The film is split in two, one half named after each of the sisters. Justine is the name of the character Ms. Dunst so marvelously plays, one of the sisters, and when her half opens we see her going to her wedding reception in the Swedish country house her brother-in-law, John, owns. That first half introduces us to Justine in the night of her wedding, to Justine and her greatly volatile mood swings, the apparent depression about to burst through the seams, taking her with it. It’s arguably in the second half of the film that we see Ms. Dunst deliver her best, since she becomes more apparently ill and gets meatier scenes, but in this first half she’s also pure magic, portraying a woman doing her very best at trying to hide her severely damaged state of mind.

The fact that it’s a wedding we’re talking about here means Mr. von Trier can go ahead and deliver some black comedy bits and melodramatic family drama, with some really outstanding dialogue popping up in the scenes that mark the family dysfunctional, the awkward encounters these events always have, the tension underlying through it all, the arguments, the sex. Those darkly humorous parts in the family gathering are really impeccable.

The second part of the film is named after Claire, the sister played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, and sees Justine already much more depressed, back in the country house to try and come out of it. In the time that has passed between the film’s two halves the little blue dot in the sky in the first half has now been identified as Melancholia, the planet quickly coming down to end us all. An end that Claire starts getting highly paranoiac about, and that Justine seems to long for as a possible end to all her deep suffering, Ms. Dunst being sheer perfection at showing Justine’s pain, her sadness, how consumed she’s been by her state of mind.

I honestly loved this film. I won’t give it a perfect grade because there were just a few things that didn’t quite gel from me, all of them coming from that second half of the film that was just much looser than the first in my opinion, but still, this is a film that you won’t want to miss, if only because of the striking images Mr. von Trier comes up here. Not to mention that even those bits that don’t feel as down right perfect as the rest of the film still feel like something that Mr. von Trier was aiming for, a very intentional part of his vision of a woman who has her own internal world crumbling to pieces while the real planet does just that.

Grade: A

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