Saturday, 1 October 2011

Melancholia - review

Thirty seconds into the film there is a shot of Kirsten Dunst's face in slow motion as dead birds fall from the sky. At that point, you could tell it was directed by Lars Von Trier.
After five minutes of opera music and slow motion shots of Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg awaiting the end of the world and the title credits of Melancholia appear. At that point it is clear that people will either love or hate this film.
If Melancholia had been 90 minutes long I might have loved it... unfortunately it is 132 minutes long and ended up provoking the same reaction in me as Terrence Malick's Tree of Life earlier this year.
Like football, this film is a game of two halves. It starts promisingly as we witness a wedding self-destruct but unfortunately the film and world ends not with a bang but a long, boring, dull whimper.
Part one focuses on Justine (Kirsten Dunst), Michael (Alexander Sarsgaard) and their wedding reception held at Justine's sister Claire's husband's country hotel. Justine's evening and relationships come crashing down due to her depression and aloofness, to the extent that the wedding planner (Udo Kier) refuses to look at the woman who has ruined his event.
Dunst, who I've never really been a fan of (I hated her as Mary Jane in the Spider-Man trilogy), impresses in the first part of the film but I still have the sneaking suspicion that she won Best Actress at Cannes more for her performance at the infamous "Nazi comment" press conference than this film.
The strained family dynamics and isolated setting evoke memories of Festen, an early Von Trier film that centred around a family get-together destroyed by a dark secret from the past.
There is an immense watchability to the unfolding carnage, similar to the morbid curiosity of watching an unfolding car crash.
I wish the same could be said for the second half which changes focus to Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she struggles to come to terms with the end of the world as we know it due to the planet Melancholia that is on collision course with Earth.
I can appreciate Von Trier doing his own spin on the end of the world. There is no last minute reprieve, Bruce Willis isn't on hand to blow up the colliding planet. We don't get a worldwide reaction to the impending doom but a personal reflection from the point of view of one family. It is just a shame that Von Trier decided to create such depressing characters to focus on. I couldn't imagine a duller bunch of people to spend the end of the world with. I'd probably kill myself before the planet hit!
One of my problems with this film, was a similar one I had when watching Tree of Life and Inland Empire. Watching both of these films, and Melancholia, I came away with a feeling that it was a terrible case of style over substance, and that word I hate to use when describing arthouse cinema... "pretentious".
Sometimes style over substance can work, Nicolas Winding Refn recently proved this with Drive, but the thing that the three mentioned films have in common is that they seem to be the point that the directors listened to their own hype and did their best to make a "Terrence Malick film", a "David Lynch film" or in this case "a Lars Von Trier film". Full of all the elements that divide audiences but almost to the point of parody.
That is just my opinion though. Will you enjoy Melancholia? Do you love Lars Von Trier films? If the answer is "Yes I do", then you probably will. If the answer is "No, I hate Von Trier films" then this certainly will not change your mind.

2 stars

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