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Friday, October 14, 2011

Melancholia Review

Melancholia Review
2011, 130 minutes
Rated R for some graphic nudity, sexual content, and language

Melancholia is Danish provocateur Lars von Trier's (Antichrist, Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark) new film starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland.  After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the quality of the film was overshadowed by its some comments that director von Trier made at a press conference (look that up on YouTube) which is really too bad because this film is stunning.  Melancholia follows a depressed bride's (Dunst) wedding and her family dysfunction.  It also follows a planet that is looming eerily close to crashing into the earth.  Dunst, in a career-restarting performance, won this year's Best Actress Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  After her wooden work in the Spider-Man films, she has redeemed herself here.  As Justine, the bride, she says very little.  But, looking at her, I was able to understand her emotions.  In the opening shot of the film, she stares directly into the camera with a pained look in her face as birds fall from the sky as the world ends.  Through that one shot in super slow-motion, the sadness is evident as well as I could see that she had resigned herself to her fate (this becomes more evident in the second half of the film).  Through scenes such as this and many others, I became more and more aware of Justine's feelings and felt a connection to her.  Watching her in pain pained me.  
Charlotte Gainsbourg, Cannes Best Actress winner for von Trier's previous film Antichrist (do not see this excellent film if you cannot handle its subject matter), gives yet another amazing performance as Claire, Justine's sister, who is happily married with a husband (Sutherland) and son.  A shown in the opening sequence, she has a very different outlook on the looming apocalypse.  She wants to try to escape her fate and will not accept it.  Gainsbourg shows this not as much through her face, but more through her words.  Her nervous and pained speaking manner demonstrate her underlying nervousness about the apocalypse.  Bottom line, she is marvelous.
Aside from the acting, the story of depression is very realistic and is broken up into two parts: one part following Justine, the other, Claire.  Both stories intertwine and connect and are both fascinating as each character is well-developed and interesting.  Von Trier writes for women like no one else.  The Spanish director Pedro Almod√≥var [Volver, Talk to Her, The Skin I Live In (to be reviewed next week)] is the only other to match him.  Also, the subplot about the planet, Melancholia, about to crash into the earth is a metaphor for depression, adding depth to an already dense film.
The visuals in the film are the year's best, hands down.  Every special effect looks real and the images von Trier creates are gorgeous.  One could put a frame around them and hang them.  The opening selection of slow-motion images is the best part of any film I've seen all year.  From Dunst flowing down a stream of deep greens and blues to an animated painting burning up, these images each have symbolic meaning and are the highlight of the film.  I will not say anymore about the opening so as not to ruin the surprise.  Von Trier's camerawork and visuals are also very impressive in the dramatic scenes as many are done in his signature hand-held Dogme 95 style which adds to the gritty realism of the film.
Another side comment about von Trier's genius is that unlike other apocalypse films √° la 2012, he never goes into how the rest of the world reacts.  By doing this, he would have lost some narrative focus and character development/focus.  His characters are in their own world, it seems, and by not showing the rest of the world, he focuses in on his characters more.  A brilliant choice.
Overall, as one of my friends put it, this is the most humane depiction of the apocalypse that has ever been made.  Never feeling too long, rushed, or false, Melancholia is a truly original vision from one of the world's greatest directors.  From the opening, all the way to the close, he keeps the viewer with Justine and Claire.  A quick warning, though.  If you are expecting the disaster film of the year or cannot sit through a conversation-fueled drama, do not see this film.  If you enjoy art house filmmaking, this is truly it at its finest.  Melancholia is a modern masterpiece.

-Joshua Handler

View with Antichrist and Dogville.

1 comment:

    Who You Gonna Call
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    Hi Joshua,

    On behalf of Magnolia Pictures and the movie’s producers, many thanks for plugging "Melancholia" ... .. thanks also, on behalf of the distributors and producers, for not posting any pirate copies or non-trailer clips of "Melancholia" and if you / your readers want good quality, non-pirated, previews, then the official trailer is available for fans and bloggers to post / host / share etc at .. for further details of on-line promotions for this movie and Magnolia / Magnet releases generally, check-out and their official YouTube channel at

    Thanks again for your plug.