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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: Melancholia

I was lucky enough to catch a screening of Lars von Trier's Melancholia months before its release in most of the world - for some reason it opened up quickly in Scandinavia and central Europe, while everybody else has to wait until late summer or fall...

Although it will inevitably be compared with 2009's Antichrist, Melancholia is a much subtler affair, not offering the scare- or laugh-out-loud (depending on point of view) moments of his former film. The concept is great though: the destruction of Earth by a huge planet told by the point of view of two sisters living in a remote mansion. The place itself is very much a product of the director's imagination, essentially a cross between high-class Americana and Sweden, making for a very distinct and personal choice of setting. The two sisters, Justine and Claire, are the opposite sides of the spectrum, the one being manic depressive and the other extremely practical and controlled offer the two distinct parts of the movie - barring the abstract introduction which summarizes the entire film.

As has been done before with other American actresses in Trier's films, Kirsten Dunst (Justine) is easily super in the film, doing by far her most challenging role and her best performance since the great Virgin Suicides. Charlotte Gainsburg (Claire), given a much more subtle role that's like a walk in the park compared to her turn in Antichrist, but she's given the chance to shine in the 2nd part of the film. A surprise bit of casting is the very macho Kiefer Sutherland as Claire's husband, the voice of science, who is obviously proven terribly wrong throughout the film's course. The other important player in the film is Wagner's overly romantic overture from Tristan and Isolde that keeps playing throughout the movie, emphasizing the completely 19th-century romantic approach taken by Trier (taken in that context, the director's recent controversial comments do not feel that much out of place).

Trier has finally moved as far as possible from his Dogme95 approach, stylizing his film as much as he can, with the small exception of some handheld shots of intimate conversations. He was obviously aiming for a romantic fairytale aspect in his filming and he quite achieved that. Also welcome is the fact that he seems a bit more restrained compared to his usual provocations, so the end result doesn't suffer from that. The climactic ending with the world's end especially is a superb piece of filmmaking, offering an emotional force that is rarely seen in film. The only serious drawback in the movie is the sketchy plot and characters, which serve more as ideas than actual human beings. Likewise, the film has an excellent idea at its core that is sometimes underdeveloped. Taken that into account, Melancholia is a great film, which doesn't rank as one of Trier's best.


mastorak said...

Sounds like a very interesting film. I 'll make sure to watch it when it is released here.

MartenJames said...

This movie was one of the best movies that I have watched.
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