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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Review: Melancholia (15) ★★★★
Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide into the Earth.

Love him or hate him, Lars Von Trier makes films that get under your skin. It’s indisputable. It’s a fact.
You only have to watch Antichrist to see just how far Von Trier will go to shock and infuriate his audience. Usually in equal measures.

Well it’s good to report that Melancholia continues his trend of preposterousness and genius, delivering a cataclysmic portrayal of human breakdown and the end of the world. Yes, this is Von Trier’s Armageddon. God help us all.

The film is split into two parts, Justine and Claire, named for the two sisters that the film revolves around. So in reference to the film let’s break this review into two similar parts.

Part One – Justine
Here we meet Justine and her groom at their wedding reception. Surrounded by a pontifical mother, a lurid father and a perfectionist sister Justine struggles to enjoy her big day. The reasons behind her apparent depression are never really examined; needless to say however, the girl has problems.

Throughout the whole reception Justine’s rebellious and dejected personality is shown, from taking a bath while everyone waits for her to come down and cut the wedding cake, to leaving her groom and raping a new work colleague on a golf course. Behind the façade lies a wholly unhappy person whose life is slowly crumbling under the weight of the unknown.

The film may in part be about literally the end of life on earth but part one deals directly with Justine’s world and how that is slowly unravelling and descending into deep, remorseless depression.

Justine is played by an amazing Kirsten Dunst, flicking between emotions in a blink of an eye yet hiding so much more than what is being shown. Dunst literally attacks the role, not shying away from anything Von Trier throws at her and pulls of an incredibly astute and fraught performance.

Part Two – Claire
So as part one dealt with Justine, here we have Claire’s story. Claire appears to be a lot more stable and happy than her sister. A seemingly loving husband and son, wealthy and more importantly, happy. That is until we find out about the planet Melancholia (a planet that was hiding behind the sun) and the truth starts to unfold.

The events in part two take place a few weeks after the disastrous wedding reception. Justine arrives a dishevelled wreck who can barely even bring herself to wash or eat. Claire is the rock in Justine’s life so tries to look after her and give support where the missing father and mother figure seem unwilling to do. This visit coincides a few days before Melancholia is due to pass by earth. Claire on the other hand is convinced that it will do no such thing and ultimately hit earth and end all life.

What follows is another portrayal of human breakdown, but this time more segmental. Fear, anger, relief and ultimately acceptation are the feelings Claire goes through, all shown on the weathered face of Charlotte Gainsbourgh.

After being put through the wringer in Antichrist, Von Trier goes a little easier on Gainsbourgh this time, but that’s not saying that he doesn’t ask a lot of her. What Dunst succeeds in, Gainsbourgh equals and through sheer determination allows her performance to match the Hollywood A-Lister. It’s a performance that should be heralded alongside Dunst’s.

So at its core, Melancholia is Von Trier’s Sci-Fi film. Sure Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay would never, ever make a film of this type but that’s because they just aren’t as clever as Von Trier.

Lars will push and prod you at every opportunity, the trick to liking him, is to accept him. The trouble with this is that it will probably infuriate him more and deliver something even more insane.

The film world needs Von Trier. It’d be a less interesting place without him.


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