Starring: Kirsten Dunst
Directed by: Lars von Trier

2 out of 5 stars

Myles Herod
Entertainment Editor

Behind the seismic mess that is Melancholia, there is an unquestionable talent at work. Danish director Lars von Trier has exhibited the prowess of a full-fledged artist before, and certainly will again. Just consider 1996’s Breaking the Waves as proof.

Alas, his work is also one of pedantic blemishes, full of undue emphasis and laborious design.

The eccentricities of von Trier – who was infamously ousted from this year’s Cannes festival for comparing himself to Hitler – are as evident as ever.

In terms of nihilistic themes and satirical art-house attributes, Melancholia is a worthy successor to the controversial indulgences of 2009’s Antichrist.

Both films begin with shamelessly pretentious prologues that drip with slow-motion photography and classical overtures. From there, however, von Trier leads us down a very long and thorny terrace of tedium, one that details a wedding and a funeral – for the entire planet.

Presumably filmed in Denmark, and set in a weirdly stateless, featureless location, the film is split into two chapters, each named after a sister from whom the story is told.

The first showcases Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a manic depressive, whose wedding has been expensively arranged by her long-suffering sibling, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and astronomer brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland).

Dunst’s role owns the first half, which plays out against her lavish wedding reception at John and Claire’s opulent estate.

However, what should be a regal celebration quickly dissolves into a nightmare for the bride, whose fragile emotions find her disappearing to take a bath and have anonymous sex on a residing golf course.

Nearly an hour and half of this plays directly into von Trier’s surreal mind and jittery camerawork, as he presents us with the definition of family dysfunction.

Eventually, as the catastrophe of Justine’s wedding conquers her, aspects of Melancholia become inexplicably nonsensical. For example, consider the scene where Justine’s husband abruptly abandons her and question if it makes sense.

Confoundingly, it is one of the film’s many clunky plot cruxes that we are simply forced to accept through its three-hour duration.

In the ensuing days afterwards, Part II kicks in, with focus shifting to Claire, whose calm, mothering presence begins to erode under the apocalyptic collision of earth and a planet named Melancholia.

Although the awkward arrival of the new, blue world is touched upon in the prologue and first section, it becomes a reality in the film’s second half.

The setting remains the same, finding Claire and John living with a nearly catatonic Justine.

Oddly enough, as Melancholia’s trajectory threatens mankind, it is Claire and John who become dejected wrecks, finding Justine springing back to consciousness – at one point even lying naked under the foreign blue glow as earth approaches meltdown.

While Melancholia might be seen as an antidote to director Terrence Malick’s equally epic The Tree Of Life, in which the director appointed his characters to submit to a celestial order, this film neither reaches Malick’s beauty or mystery.

Instead, Melancholia settles as an idiosyncratic misstep at science fiction.

If only Lars von Trier took into account that audiences might actually want to enjoy Melancholia, rather than endure it (or sift through it), he might have been onto something great.




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