October 2, 2011

Melancholia (2011)

With perhaps one of Von Trier's largest cast of feature actors including Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård (Eric Northman on True Blood), John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård and Udo Kier (as the comic relief), Melancholia is a 2 part end-of-the-world story that slowly unravels with a constant feeling of dread and anxiety, albeit not one motivated by the coming apocalypse. Starting with gorgeously composed tableaus that sum up the whole film and satisfy our need for aesthetic excellence, the film quickly switches to the shaky-out-of-focus mess that is Dogme95 style. As the ‘plot’ develops, we are introduced to the star-studded cast, nicely used throughout the spellbinding first half of the film, where the elaborate wedding party slowly disintegrates into a colossal mess, though not an unexpected one. Kirsten Dunst nicely fulfills the role of the anxiety-ridden depressed bride, and she carries the first half of the film with great success until her eventual collapse at its end. Changing pace and greatly reducing cast, the 2nd half becomes more familiar Von Trier territory, with Dunst becoming less central and Gainsbourg taking the lead. Presented as the strong, stable half of the two sisters in the first half, Gainsbourg slowly switches roles with Dunst, becoming more and more agitated as the impending apocalypse nears. It is as if Justine came to terms with humanity’s fate whereas Claire is just now beginning to see reality and refuses to accept it. The film isn’t perfect, at times it drags on and risks boredom (though considering Von Trier’s past work, this shouldn’t be a valid complaint) but overall it fits nicely within the director’s repertoire. Visually, the first part is bathed in tungsten and gives the whole wedding a very warm, emotionally driven look, whereas the 2nd part features colder colors, with a lot more outdoor shots on cloudy days, providing the backdrop for Gainsbourg’s character’s half of the story. Overall more subdued than Von Trier’s other work, but as Justine exclaims to her new ex-husband at the end of the first half, “What did you expect?”