Melancholia represents notorious director Lars Von Trier’s latest attempt at messing with his audience’s minds. Von Trier; equally adored and loathed across the globe has a knack for getting under peoples skin. His films, like 2009’s confronting Antichrist and the divisive Dogville, are as loved and praised as they are hated and criticized. I struggle to think of a current filmmaker who polarizes moviegoers as much as the controversial Danish director. Melancholia however is Von Trier’s most accessible film to date, beautifully shot, superbly acted and containing some of the most powerful scenes and images this year. It is the perfect film for Von Trier skeptics to revisit his work. Even so, it just might be a little too dumbed down for his supporters while still not accessible enough for detractors.
The opening minutes of Melancholia are some of the most memorable of 2011 and are almost gripping enough to sustain its audience for the remaining two hours. Visceral, abstract images are accompanied by Wagner’s haunting Tristan and Isolde. Combined, these elements make for a particularly striking opening sequence, which perfectly prepares the films audience for the deep insight into its characters minds that follows. One particular mind whom some may argue reflects the filmmaker himself.
After the mesmerising opening the film struggles to maintain audience attention through two distinct acts named after sisters Justine (a remarkable Kirstin Dunst) and Claire. The first of which depicts a wonderfully realised dysfunctional family on what should be the happiest day of Justine’s life, her wedding night. The second explores a closer dynamic between Dunst’s character and her sister played by an equally impressive Charlotte Gainsbourg on what might be the most important day of both their lives. The first act starts with Justine, all smiles, on the way to her wedding reception with her new husband, but as the night goes on more and more cracks begin to show in Justine, thanks to Dunst’s quite outstanding performance. Dunst, especially in this first section, walks the tight rope of joy and hopelessness and does so with an overwhelmingly ominous calm that reflects the films tone. We are never really sure where Von Trier is taking us but there is always the unsettling feeling its not somewhere good. It is painfully clear to the audience that there is more to Justine than meets the eye, and certainly more to the film.
Unsubtle metaphors aside, Melancholia is at its best when exploring Justine’s descent into depression during her wedding reception and her family’s attempts at understanding, resenting or coping with her erratic behaviour. In the second act Von Triers vision and the prologue become much clearer but regardless of the compelling subject matter, the pace drags. However thanks to the exceptional performances of the female leads the audience is able to remain invested in Melancholia until its powerful finale that perfectly compliments the films opening.
Verdict: Worth seeing.
Melancholia requires some patience but features two deep performances from its absorbing leading ladies and is ultimately a rewarding experience at its memorable climax.
Director: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Run time: 136 minutes