Melancholia

2 Oct

Appropriately billed “a beautiful movie about the end of the world” Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic drama doesn’t end to a bang or a whimper but the beautiful melodies of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Focusing on the already-difficult relationship between two sisters as a mysterious planet named Melancholia threatens to collide with Earth, the film is split into two parts with each named after one of the sisters. The first part focuses on the trials and tribulations at the wedding of Justine (Kirsten Dunst). Severely depressed, her behaviour becomes more erratic and unpredictable as the festivities go on much to the chagrin of her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsborough). At the beginning of part two, the apocalyptic atmosphere seems to be  a pathetic fallacy for Justine’s damaged psyche but soon the roles are reversed and Claire becomes increasingly agitated over the impending doom.

The visual style of the film is nothing short of breathtaking. The film is introduced by a jaw-dropping slo-mo montage of apocalyptic imagery that ranks as some of the most memorable in recent history before we’re whisked off to a wedding reminiscent of Festen and a setting that looks like it’s been lifted from Last Year in Marienbad. Dunst won Best Actress at Cannes for her portrayal of Justine and her performance is outstanding as she, having experienced it herself, convincingly portrays the paralysing depression Justine is afflicted with. Dunst, as Justine, brings a supernatural element to the character. She seems both young and old, strong and weak with an unusual, disturbing insight into life and it’s meaning. Von Trier is currently cinema’s greatest director of actresses and he has an almost worrying insight into how to convincingly elicit raw emotion from the female form. Perhaps it’s a Danish thing – Carl Th. Dreyer managed to capture possibly the greatest performance of all time from Renée Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Dreyer’s methods were apparently so brutal they caused Falconetti never to star in a film again. Von Trier too is famed for his toughness on set but Charlotte Gainsborough, who won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance in von Trier’s previous film Antichrist, gives a performance equally as impressive as Dunst’s as Claire who disintegrates from being a controlling bitch of a sister to being weak and grief-stricken in the face of impending doom.

Attention was unfairly diverted from the film at Cannes by the distasteful comments von Trier made at Melancholia‘s press conference, leading the festival – which has awarded his films no less than nine awards, including a Palme d’Or for Dancer in the Dark – to declare him persona non grata and ban him. Whether or not they’ll let him back in again remains to be seen but despite the controversy that accompanies him, Lars has once again proven that he is one of the best directors in the business and with Melancholia he may just have made his best film yet.

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