the fresh films reviews

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Melancholia (2011)

Lars von Trier
Drama/Science Fiction
130 minutes
Meta Louise Foldager
Louise Vesth
Lars von Trier

Cast includes:

Justine Kirsten Dunst
Claire Charlotte Gainsbourg ½
John Kiefer Sutherland ½
Michael Alexander Skarsgård
Leo Cameron Spurr ½
Gaby Charlotte Rampling
Dexter John Hurt ½
Little Father Jesper Christensen
Jack Stellan Skarsgård
Tim Brady Corbet
Wedding Planner Udo Kier



I'm trying to find positives about Melancholia, and I believe I've found one: it's extremely ambitious. Not only is writer/director Lars von Trier presenting a highly scientific and all-encompassing existential crisis scenario, but he also seems to want to depict (or rather wallow in) every human fallibility, including arrogance, apathy, ignorance, selfishness, greed, insecurity, infidelity, intolerance, etc. Positive characteristics are nowhere to be found in these characters, and that is one of the least attractive sides (with stiff competition) of Melancholia; it's utterly negative. Actually, it's downright misanthropic. 

Von Trier has divided his film into two parts, named "Justine" and "Claire", after two sisters played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg respectively. The two parts are linked together in that the four principal characters and the house they live in are present in both, but apart from that, we may well have watched two separate short films. In part one, Von Trier hobbles his camera around a wedding hosted by a highly dysfunctional family, mostly trying to get it as close as possible to the face or tits of miss Dunst, whose character most obviously suffers from some sort of depression (I'm not a clinician by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm going to take a wild guess at melancholia). Von Trier's narrative style has rarely seemed more unfresh and counter-productive; perhaps because the novelty has somewhat worn off, but probably more because these inherently uninteresting and flat characters leave you focusing on the film's technical aspects. That's the first negative omen for Melancholia.

After enduring an hour or so of this horrible wedding, where upper-class people who do not resemble anyone I've ever met (not even here in Scandinavia) take turns saying or doing arbitrary unsympathetic things, only interrupted by short sensible outbursts from the Kiefer Sutherland character, we're being informed that a large planet is approaching Earth. Switch to part two, taking place after the wedding when things seem to have normalized somewhat. The two sisters keep failing to relate to each other, while Claire's husband (Sutherland) is setting up equipment to watch the approaching planet which may or may not hit Earth. The tension should be incredibly high at this point, both for us and our protagonists, but Von Trier's anti-scientific point of view, the script's complete lack of perspective, and the characters' inanity keep the film impressively hollow even as the climax is approaching. Von Trier continues to half-heartedly explore Justine's psyche, but Dunst's acting and von Trier's inability or unwillingness to get beneath her skin leaves a lot to be desired.

While Melancholia isn't quite as appalling as Dogville, both films have left me seriously doubting von Trier's talent – both as a filmmaker (his ability to communicate meaningful ideas and stories through moving pictures), and as a commentator on human life – which arguably is what he aspires to be through his films. I'm not opposed to using the film medium as an allegorical form of expression; my objection is that von Trier just doesn't do it very well. Either he thinks he has understood something about human existence which others haven't (at least not I), and then fails to communicate this understanding convincingly. Or he just tries his hardest to be artsy – substance or no substance – in order to reap cheap laurels from arthaus enthusiasts. Regardless, the final product is a fatuous piece of work which probably will seduce a few, annoy many, and neither entertain nor enlighten practically anyone.

Copyright © 13.01.2012 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang