Monday, 12 March 2012

Movie Review: 'Melancholia' - AGAIN


Update: I'm posting this review again because it's hitting the big screen in South Africa this weekend. It's one of the best and most beautiful films I've seen in a long time, and an absolute big screen must see. Finally, a cerebral movie about the apocalypse, with performances that only the infamous Lars Von Trier can extract from an actress. Kirsten Dunst won my respect for ever with this one. Do yourself a favour and spend 2 hours in the cinema this weekend experiencing Melancholia.

Lars Von Trier is a genius. I suspected it after seeing Dogville, was relatively sure of it after Antichrist, and now I'm absolutely convinced of it. To tell you the truth, I was a little worried about Melancholia: it received mixed reviews when it premiered at the Cannes film festival, and I thought that maybe I would be expecting too much after Antichrist. But once again, I was wrong! Hit the jump for my first ever review.


In the words of the director, Melancholia begins at the end. And so it would not be a spoiler if I told you it's about the end of the world at the hands of a rogue planet, the titular "Melancholia". Previously hiding behind the sun, Melancholia is on course for Earth, even though scientists are apparently uncertain of whether or not it is on a collision course. Anyway, with that apocalyptic science fiction setting as a backdrop, Melancholia is, for the most part at least, a tale of two very different sisters. Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, the appropriately melancholic sister of Charlotte Gainsbourg's character Claire, a far more human human.

The wedding reception of Justine and Michael (played by Alexander Skarsgård) sets the scene. Costing a fortune, and trivialised by dozens of little wedding traditions (guessing the beans, cutting the cake, throwing the bouquet, french onion soup etc) it is an odd, and even comical, affair. We soon realise that Justine is not just the beaming bride we thought her to be, and along with her mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling), is not charmed by all the nonsense, and sees right through it all, resulting in an apparently jaded and cynical view of the world. All these things are so damn insignificant and stupid when you consider the big picture. But that's what makes us human right? Correct, and it's the appreciation for those things that is destroyed by Justine's affliction. The character is, I understand, modelled on Lars Von Trier himself, who is also a sufferer of depression and who, in his films, has exhibited a preternaturally lucid view of the world, a view that some would see as cynical, pretentious and depressing. But he and Justine see the real truth, and the result is a wonderful mix of melancholy (for the lack of a better word), clarity and beauty.

The transformation of the polar opposite characters Justine and Claire, set against the impending apocalypse, makes for some phenomenal viewing which I don't wish to spoil for you. The film is similar in a way to Antichrist, exploring similar themes and visual imagery that we have come to expect from Lars Von Trier. In Melancholia, we see some of this imagery beautifully depicted, and in a manner much more restrained than Antichrist. People will actually be able to keep their eyes open for the duration of this one.

Apart from the thematic richness, two things really stand out in Melancholia. First, the performances; Kirsten Dunst is absolutely fantastic. Who would ever have thought? Lars Von Trier is a notorious misogynist, but yet his female characters always deliver the greatest performances: Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, Nicole Kidman in Dogville, Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist. Well, Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia is a deserved addition to that list. I so wish she gets an Oscar nomination, but the academy did not honour Charlotte Gainsbourg for her similar (if somewhat less subtle) performance in Antichrist. At least they both won the best actress award at Cannes. The rest of the cast is brilliant as well: Charlotte Gainsbourg (as always), Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Alexander Skarsgård and the newcomer Cameron Spurr as Claire's son. Him especially, kids irritate easily, but he nails it.

The other aspect that makes Melancholia one of the best of the year is the cinematography. Oh my, some of the most beautiful images ever committed to celluloid. From the fantastic super slow-mo montage that opens the film, to the wonderfully moody shots in the middle (in particular, the mansion at night and the aerial shots of the horses), to the jaw dropping finale. Von Trier uses visual effects sparingly, and brilliantly. Another aspect I loved was the contrast between the gritty hand-held shots of the characters, and the dreamy, stylized, romanticised shots of their environment. It really is a film of opposites.

Is there anything wrong with the movie? I sound like Barry Ronge at the screening of the Help for goodness sake! It is slow, but that's how it should be. It takes its time, but by the final act I was sitting bolt upright, my eyes riveted to the screen. It is depressing, but in a way that evokes a feeling of absolute elation. I have never felt this good on a Sunday night; kind of like I felt after watching John Hillcoat's The Road. Many people will differ, but I respect Lars Von Trier's cynical vision of humanity, and agree with it in many respects. Human beings cannot have their cake and eat it too: they can be satisfied in life and crushed by disaster, or they can be crushed by life and satisfied in disaster.

And there you have my first ever movie review. A little heavy on the analysis I know, but Lars Von Trier is such a visionary director, when watching his movies it all just rushes from the screen and sears itself into your eyeballs. Much like Melancholia and Earth. I could discuss this film forever, but I will not. Just see the damn thing. And please Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro, bring it to the big screen soon!

9 (out of 10)

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