Melancholia (and why it’s the most beautiful film of the year)

On the right, Melancholia

Melancholia is fascinating. It incites fear, provokes emotional responses from humans that are usually kept deep inside us. The coming of Melancholia is tragic, but also inevitable. Its significance: insignificant – it is an oxymoron. Melancholia is Lars Von Trier.

The main title, scrawled like a toddler marking his territory with a crayon.

Justine (Mary Jane from Spiderman) is an advertising executive, and a very good one at that! It’s her wedding day, but, uh oh, is she having second thoughts? :O Now, she’s gonna have to find a way 2 make it thru what should be the happiest day of her life, and trudge through all the shit people, including her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), give her on the following days.

If that sounded good to you, do not watch Melancholia, because at the crux of the undecided bride’s emotional structure is a depressed woman unable to maintain her misanthropic nature from seeping out at the party, and, eventually, taking total control of her soul for the 2nd half of the film. This is what Melancholia dives into head first, and it is the days following the disastrous wedding that we see, we learn and we suffer as the characters begin breaking down emotionally under the pressure of an approaching planet due to ‘fly by’ Earth. That is, of course, except for Justine.

For someone who doesn’t believe in cinematography, von Trier certainly knows how to create some spectacular imagery, and a colour palette that can switch from overly romantic to stripped-down murky. For those of you who don’t know, von Trier started the Dogme 95 movement in Denmark (simple rules, scripts must be written in a few days, you must shoot on location, no music, handheld cameras) and it was under this movement he made some intriguing – and by intriguing, I mean they were shit, but thought provoking – films. I mean, they were different if anything. Since then he’s made similarly art house movies and acquired a status as cinema’s enfant terrible. So it’s no surprise that he has a few tricks up his sleeve in Melancholia; following 10 minutes of breathtaking, nonsensical visual poetry (this isn’t an overstatement), the audience is shown a large planet colliding into Earth and ending all life forever. Party! By removing the anticipation of ‘ooh, will it hit Earth or won’t it!? I’m biting ma nails!’ the focus is placed instead on the extraordinary performances led by Dunst and Gainsbourg. It’s good to see that von Trier has stuck to his odd roots as circus ringmaster, so not only do we have beautiful imagery and fab-o performances, but when Dunst isn’t having second thoughts about her wedding by taking a dip in the bathtub or crying, she also finds time to piss on a golf course, abuse a horse and rape a party guest. Oh Kirsten, you so random! If that doesn’t make you want to see it, I don’t know what will.

The film is split into two parts, one for each of the sisters. They have almost polar opposite personalities. Justine (Dunst) is partly fiction, partly truth (based on von Trier himself) – a walking contradiction. Her character is, in all aspects, rather beautiful. An amalgamation of French Romanticism, Jesus Christ, the Antichrist, realism and surrealism. Her sister, Claire (Gainsbourg), on the other hand holds rather neo-conservative believing in the security of marriage, but not necessarily endorsing it. Von Trier satirises such social constructions exploiting Claire’s fragility and vulnerability under circumstance (OMFG GIANT PLANET COMING AT YOU). Though Gainsbourg gives a terrific performance, it feels like this is the first time Kirsten Dunst has acted. I mean properly acted.

The special effects, which I recently learnt are produced by an Eastern European graphics company, equal that of any American visual effects film. It could be said, even, the fact that it was made outside of the US emphasises the artistic and surreal aspects of the imagery seen in the film, both on Earth and in the cosmic sequences. Von Trier owes a huge amount of debt to them, for the magnificent and border line sentimental score by Wagner that no doubt characterises the film’s themes would be nothing without those images. It’s a rare occurrence that filmmakers can actually improve musical pieces by creating imagery for them, but von Trier is one of those directors and I cannot think of a higher compliment for this film.

Some have called the film tedious with an extensive running time, but it wouldn’t be honest of me to say that I felt the need to walk out or shout at the screen, nor is this an example of ‘slow cinema’ that is unfortunately becoming ridiculous in the art house industry. And unlike other serious art films, it’s hardly humourless – the first half providing regular chuckles, and not just ‘haha, oh that’s clever’ chuckles. Von Trier is the only one who could’ve made this film, and the only one who would’ve dared to. Though not quite a risk as von Trier’s previous films, Melancholia is an emotional and visual attack on love, romanticism, social rituals, Hollywood etc. Melancholia will be looked at in 10 years time as a masterpiece. I’m just so hip that I know that now.

Oh, and the ending shot is the best thing I’ve ever seen in a cinema.

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2 Responses to Melancholia (and why it’s the most beautiful film of the year)

  1. This has made me want to go watch Melancholia even more! Very in depth, better than TeeMayne ;).

  2. Clive Wolsey says:

    I now really, really, really want to see this.

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