Melancholia

Melancholia

2011, Directed by Lars Von Trier starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård and Kiefer Sutherland.

Let me start by saying that I have never seen a film by Lars von Trier before, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting into.

The open seven minutes or so are a series of slow moving and surrealist snapshots; a woman stares on unblinking while dead birds fall from the sky, two planetary bodies are shown colliding with the smallest being obliterated, a shot of Breugel’s is shown slowly disintegrating.  If this sounds too avant-garde for you, then back away now; this isn’t going to be your thing.

The film is split into two parts following the lives of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainbourg). It begins with the chaotic wedding reception of Micheal (Alexander Skarsgård) and Justine. The couple arrives two hours late to the reception, and it’s clear from the outset that things aren’t going to improve. Justine begins to feel alienated, sinking into depression and gradually becoming more hostile towards her husband and guests. It’s tense to watch, and fine acting from Dunst who manages to pull off the balance between being brink of tears while trying to smile through her emotional pain. Ultimately she fails, and things quickly begin to break down.

Following the disintegration of Justine’s marriage and subsequent break down in mental health Claire encourages her sister to come and stay with her family. While this is happening it is revealed that a planet called Melancholia is heading towards earth on a possible collision path. While struggling to care for her deeply depressed sister Claire becomes nervous about the approach of the planet, and is wary of her husband’s insistence that it narrowly avoid hitting earth.

As Melancholia begins to loom large in the sky Claire begins to panic, fearing for the safety of her husband and young son. In contrast Justine displays an almost zen like calm, viewing the oncoming apocalypse or narrow miss with indifference and equal measures of hostility. Apparently Lars von Trier derived the idea for the film from the observation that severely depressed people often remain calm in stressful situations. Justine is wrapped up in a ‘Melancholia’ that of course has nothing to do with planet, and is totally indifferent to the outcome of her fate.

Melancholia deals with some serious themes; family relations, love, depression, death – human beings under pressure. The colours are muted and moody, and there’s plenty in here to get and art lover excited. I was reminded of Alain Resnais 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad, because of the similarity of the grounds, although perhaps there’s also something in there about the way people can filter their own reality.

Last Year at Marienbad, 1961 by Alan Resnais, note trees with missing shadows.

Last Year at Marienbad, 1961 by Alain Resnais, note trees with missing shadows.

Look familiar?  I couldn't be absolutely certain as I was watching on my laptop, but it seemed that the figure began to walk away from its shadow . . .

Look familiar? I couldn’t be absolutely certain as I was watching on my laptop, but it seemed that the figure began to walk away from its shadow . . .

All things considered, Melancholia meets my approval and I’ll be exploring what else Lars von Trier has to offer.  This certainly seems like an appropriate movie in wake of the looming 21/12/12 apocalypse suspicions.  Happy pre-apocalpytic viewing everyone!

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