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Melancholia - Lars von Trier (DVD)
Member Name: goldenbat666
Melancholia - Lars von Trier (DVD)
Advantages: The pitch-perfect performances, fascinating dynamic between its characters, dramatic plot
Disadvantages: Highly depressing, any von Trier haters will struggle to like this
Of course, most characters are not initially aware of this mysterious foreign planet that will mark the end of their lives. We look at the complex lives of two sisters, Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Justine, the younger of the two, has just gotten married to a charming, dedicated man ("True Blood"'s Alexander Skarsgaard), although she does not seem to be over the moon about her nuptials. She appears to be a victim of depression, and her highly unpredictable, repressed behaviour that struggles to sustain her marriage and even herself threatens to ruin her existence. After a lengthy, intense slow-motion opening in which the thunderous soundtrack from Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" signals the world's end, and the audience gets a glimpse of "The End," we focus back to Justine, heading up to her sister's lavish countryside mansion for her after party, in which many wedding traditions are supposed to be carried out (the first dance, the cutting of the cake, etc). But looking so distant and vulnerable, we worry whether she will make it through the night.
Not helpful, are her bitterly divorced parents, who have reluctantly united under one roof for the sake of their daughter's wedding. But of course, not everything goes smoothly. Their fierce and possibly a little drunk mother (the unforgettably sharp and piercing Charlotte Rampling) openly lashes out at her ex-husband who is proudly accompanied by a younger lover, and is AWOL during most of the party. She is highly uncooperative, and we begin to wonder why she came to this in the first place. This tense, uncomfortable atmosphere is not what Claire's filthy rich husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) wanted, who incidentally paid for everything himself.
The stress becomes unbearable for the already damaged Justine, and after the disaster that is her wedding reception, she suffers a breakdown. And this is one of many aspects in which Dunst excels in her mature, sincere performance. She doesn't have an emotional freak-out, but instead slowly descends into a state of complete hollow mental state in which she cannot bring herself to do or care for anything. Her performance is a wonderfully measured and grounded one, firmly holding on to the film's emotional core. Dunst reportedly used her own experience from depression as a source for playing her character. Well it works, and it works brilliantly. Distancing herself from everyone, including her husband and her sister, she is constantly in a blank, self-destructive state, and everything becomes meaningless to the heroine.
However there is one thing that Justine becomes fascinated by: the incoming planet. Convinced that the Earth they are currently living on is "evil," Justine welcomes the planet, and is not afraid of the inevitable consequence. Claire, who has a lot more to lose, acts differently. As the seemingly calm and collected one taking care of her younger sibling in the first half, she becomes paranoid whenever the planet becomes larger in her eyes. Despite her idealistic and optimistic husband's assurance that Melancholia will cause no harm, Claire's mind also starts to wobble, at the thought of losing everyone she loves, including her innocent young son.
Claire and Justine don't share the easiest of relationships and this is shown clearly through yet another excellent female performance in this film. Gainsbourg, although showing warmth towards her sister, also lets out some cold air towards her, letting her frustration and annoyance seep through in her steadfast treatment of Justine. Hers is also an impeccably layered and detailed performance, one that beautifully matches Dunst's. Gainsbourg has worked with von Trier before in the much more graphic and unsubtle "Antichrist," in which she played a mentally unstable, ultimately violent protagonist. Here she is much quieter and restrained, although not without the usual intensity the talented actress can portray on screen. She cannot stop obsessing over Melancholia's size and the proximity of the planet to Earth, and towards the second half it's Justine, the younger, seemingly more damaged sibling, having to stand firm whilst her older sister turns into a blubbering mess.
Von Trier has that exceptional skill of turning the most unlikely subject into extraordinarily beautiful art form. Some perceive this as pretentious offering, but what he manages in "Melancholia" is simply gorgeous to look at, although the most dramatic moments do require patience to truly set in. He is terribly fond of that Wagner soundtrack, which he uses to its maximum level as it crescendoes and crescendoes to the whopping big finale. It's an awe-inspiring, unforgettably charged moment of wonder, from a director who usually tends to stay away from using grand special effects. But von Trier never forgets whose story he wants to tell. This is about the mental unravelling of two sisters facing the Apocalypse, and he never steers away from his pitch-perfect, outstanding leads. It's not an easy film to watch by any means, any film by von Trier carries with it a certain kind of expectation that it won't be a mood-lifting, particularly joyful film, but the gripping dynamic between the two central women, surrounded by impending disaster, is completely original, and oddly sensational. The director's reputation and his anti-social nature might have made the film hard to advertise for and to attract much attention upon its release, but now that the controversy has almost settled down, it's about time to focus on his actual work, without prejudice, and marvel at his wondrous new cinematic achievement.
Summary: The most beautiful and intimate end-of-the-world film you'll ever see