Monday, November 21, 2011

Man on Film: Melancholia

One could hardly qualify me as a Lars Von Trier fan. Having loathed Dogville and counting Breaking the Waves among my five most hated films, Dancer in the Dark was the only Von Trier film I've seen that I liked. But, I was absolutely taken with Dancer in the Dark and were I pressed to make a top ten list of the best films of the year 2000, the only one that I'd rank above it would have been Requiem for a Dream.

Obviously, Von Trier is a divisive auteur, particularly for this reviewer.

Now setting aside the fact that--if the now 13-year-old information that I gleaned from class my freshman year Astronomy class is correct--the entire premise of the film is impossible, Melancholia certainly has some arresting aspects to it. There are shots that are absolutely magnificent. The surrealistic nightmarish premonitions of the apocalypse at the film's open are fantastic in the truest sense of the word. The lavish wedding reception in "Part One: Justine" is the paragon of opulence, and setting it at an idyllic Old World manor injects an air of class into the film against which to contrast Justine's debilitating depression. Von Trier's lens also manages to capture Kirsten Dunst nude in as flattering a light as possible, pleasing those remaining holdouts hoping to see the girl in (insert appropriate decade-old film that was the last Dunst film anyone cared about here) naked.
As for Dunst, who took home Best Actress hardware at Cannes, she is actually pretty outstanding here. The role of Justine calls for her to reach manic highs and depressive lows. It requires that she be an at times evil bitch to her sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. It sees her discard a merely hours-old marriage to real life Scandinavian God Alexander Skarsgard (how is that even possible, ladies?) while remaining utterly detached. And for the bulk of the time, she reaches into the depths of despair and wallows there, crippled. One could not qualify me as a Kirsten Dunst fan at this point in time, but she knocks this one out of the fucking park.

So far this review seems like a rave. I would be remiss if I didn't call attention to insanely long First Part. A lot of time is spent, and one could argue wasted, setting up just how beset by depression she is. Justine cannot evade the grips of depression, even on her wedding day. Luckily for the audience, writer/director Lars Von Trier's vision calls upon us to sit through a solid 58 minutes to establish this point. I am all for deliberate film-making, but there is a fine line between deliberate but compelling and slow enough that the viewer keeps checking their watch. This first act unfortunately falls into the latter category. Given that one is already checking the watch, the also long "Part Two: Claire" does little to alleviate the condition.

With the negatives out of the way, it is clear that this doesn't fall into the category of drab Danish masturbation that is Dogville or utterly loathsome filmmaking that Breaking the Waves qualifies as, which certainly says something. While not entirely without flaws, Melancholia is good. Perhaps that's a weak qualifier, but I am reticent to step out any farther onto this precarious limb on which I find myself. Maybe I should watch Antichrist to reconnect with my disdain for Von Trier.

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