About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Film Review: "Melancholia" (2011) directed by Lars von Trier 3.5/5

 Beginning with a slow-motion montage depicting the final events of the film (and the conclusion of the existence of Earth), Melancholia can only be left to build up to those devastating moments from that time.
Danish director Lars von Trier has a knack for making audiences relate to characters in scripts that cross the line of believability freely and often. His films are difficult to categorize by genre due to their thematic diversities, Dogme 95 visual schemes, and overall artistic nature. Disappointingly, this film reads more straightforward than Lars von Trier's films typically do (and this may be a result of knowing how the film will end within the first moments of the movie). His films are known for having grand finales that leave viewers speechless, shocked, and in awe of the beauty of cinematic storytelling, but the ending to Melancholia feels far too gratifying as it is a fulfillment of a promise the audience was given from the start.
"Part 1" of this two part science fiction drama focuses upon Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding day. She seems happy and madly in love with her husband Michael, but the events that follow the introduction of the newly-weds feel too sudden and unexplained.
"Part 2", on the other hand, focuses upon Justine's sister, Clair (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) a few days after the wedding. Their connection on the screen is sensational and the intensified focus on the planet Melancholia only strengthens their half of the film.
Lars von Trier does a wonderful job at keeping the stellar events in the minds of the audience (even when it isn't the most important thing on the screen at that moment), but in the end, "Part1" of this beautifully shot artistic disaster-film is rather unsatisfying, and oddly unnerving. The lead character (Justine) defies everything that the audience and wedding attendants would like for her to do, and there is little explanation for her actions (or visible repercussions).
Why Kirsten Dunst won best actress at Cannes is a mystery, as it felt like a standard performance that doesn't begin to compare to Gainsbourg's performance (which Gainsbourg won best actress at Cannes in 2009 for Lars von Trier's previous film Antichrist). "Part 2" redeemed this film easily, but the ending doesn't leave near as much of a discussion as his films traditionally do.
As always, the cinematography in Melancholia is wonderful (as to be expected from a Lars von Trier film). With a moderately larger budget than usual, it is clear that the extra money went to the special effects (a newer field for von Trier's work). Beautiful space imagery and planetary photography enhances the entire believability of the film (which is important in this). The light from the planet Melancholia casting over the golfing grounds of John's mansion is breathtakingly real, and set against the backdrop of the soundtrack - featuring Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" - the imagery is remarkable.
Where Melancholia falls apart is within the script. Where clarification and visible character development was needed, it was consistently lacking in this film about a chronically depressed woman who seems to have no reason for her state of depression. There could be many explanations as to why Justine is depressed, but it is never answered within the context of the film. There are some wonderful side performances from the likes of the Lars von Trier regulars Udo Kier and Stellan Skarsgård (Skarsgård was also in David Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), but there performances are both fleeting and at times unnecessary.
It should be noted that the references and allusions to Andrei Tarkovsky's films are still prevalent in Melancholia, as in Lars von Trier's previous film. Melancholia seems much more in line with Tarkovsky's final film The Sacrifice (1986) as it follows an old man on the first day of World War 3 who is given the chance to save all of humanity if he gives up everything that he has (including his beautiful mansion). Lars even includes an image from a book that Tarkovsky used nearly 40 years prior in his film Solaris (1972), and a reference to Andrei Rublev (1966) is included as well as a horse hauntingly rises to its feet.
Though Melancholia is weak for Lars von Trier, it is beautiful to know that even when a director as wonderful and unique as Lars is not at his best, his films are still better than any of the typical films being released by "Hollywood" now.

Melancholia IMDB

My ranking: 3.5/5 stars

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