Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Melancholia

MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier, 2011)

If ever there was a director prepared to make a film about depression and the end of the world, Danish provocateur Lars von Trier would be the one.  His well-publicized battles with depression informed his notorious previous effort, ANTICHRIST, and pervade his latest, MELANCHOLIA.  

After a prologue that beautifully envisions a terrible end, MELANCHOLIA splits into two halves, each devoting attention to the sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  Justine has wrestled with depression for a long time, and not even her wedding day, which comprises the film’s first half, can keep her in high spirits.  

The title is also the name of a massive, newly discovered planet that had been hiding behind the sun.  Scientists expect its orbit to pass by close to Earth, but in MELANCHOLIA’s second half Claire fears that this heavenly body will smash our planet to bits.  

Words associated with depression, like dreary, bleak, and sluggish, aren’t applicable to MELANCHOLIA.  Manuel Alberto Claro’s gorgeous cinematography produces slick, saturated colors in the prologue; warm, deep browns and yellows at the reception; and light and hazy blues and white in the second half.  

Considering its subject matter, MELANCHOLIA is quite funny, especially during the wedding reception.  Von Trier, who is likely riffing on fellow Dogme 95 filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg’s THE CELEBRATION, has great fun observing a festive ceremony fall apart.  Udo Kier’s fussy wedding planner, Charlotte Rampling’s grouchy mother of the bride, and a peeved Kiefer Sutherland, who never fails to remind the necessary parties that he’s paying for it all, highlight the prickly humor around this supposedly happy occasion.

While existence hangs in the balance in MELANCHOLIA, von Trier’s fatalistic embrace of impending doom is starkly beautiful and strangely reassuring.  Without question Justine is the director’s surrogate, someone who finds comfort in the awareness that years of despondency and anxiety were not for naught.  Dunst’s remarkable performance conveys the emotional swings and physical effects from her long, internal struggle and the peace she makes with it.  Now that her worst possible fear can be confirmed, what else is there to do but submit to the inevitable?  In a film full of strong images, its final one is most striking for what it says about accepting those things that cannot be changed.  

Grade: A-

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