Melancholia * * * * *
Director: Lars Von Trier.
Screenplay: Lars Von Trier.
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard, Brady Corbet, Cameron Spurr, Jesper Christensen, Udo Kier.
With his “Nazi sympathiser” outbursts at the Cannes film festival – getting him thrown out and declared ‘persona non grata’, you’d be forgiven for expecting this latest from director Lars Von Trier to be provocative and disturbing like his previous films. However, it’s far from it and probably the most restrained and technically accomplished film of his career so far.
At her own wedding reception, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is overcome by depression and alienates everyone, including her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), her devoted sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Keifer Sutherland). When a new planet, “Melancholia”, appears in the sky and is on a collision course with Earth, some believe it will fly-by, others are not so positive… Justine believes it to be the end.
The intellectual weight behind this one is not as heavy as you might expect from Von Trier. The heaviness comes in the form of watching very unhappy and angst ridden people for over 2 hours. Von Trier’s understanding and personal portrayal of mental illness may seem uneventful, but it’s captivating nonetheless. That’s by and large to his wonderfully artistic eye and strong performances from Dunst, Gainsbourg and Sutherland. The constant reminder of the descending planet adds an unbearable sense of foreboding, again, expressed through Justine and her everyday struggle with depression. The science fiction element to the story plays second fiddle to the human drama but it’s no less impressive. Much like Terrence Malick’s recent “The Tree of Life“, Von Trier is happy to use wondrous images of star forming galaxies. But where Malick explored the birth of Earth, Von Trier explores the destruction of it, making this an unofficially strange, yet apt companion piece. The baroque style that Von Trier employs is also highly effective. From the dominating architecture and artistic flourishes to the haunting classical score, culminating to an eerie and visually striking piece of cinema.
Provocateur Lars Von Trier is not so provocative this time around. Instead he delivers a personal understanding of mental illness, with highly artistic and meditative filmmaking.