Directed by: Lars von Trier
Countries & Regions: Denmark, Spain, Sweden
Region: Region 2
Released: 23 January 2012
Cat No: ART541DVD
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Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg , John Hurt , Charlotte Rampling , Kiefer Sutherland , Kirsten Dunst , Udo Kier , Brady Corbet , Jesper Christensen , Alexander Skarsgard , Alexander Skarsgård , Stellan Skarsgård , Stefan Cronwall , Deborah Fronko
Lars von Trier directs this sci-fi drama about the effects of depression on two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte... Read More
Lars von Trier spent much of the 1990s and 2000s reducing his cinema to the bare essentials, first with the Dogme project, then with his studio-bound U.S. diptych Dogville and Manderlay. The latter’s failure has sparked a rebuilding process of sorts: the grand guignol of 2009’s Antichrist is now followed by a film combining intimate chamber drama with a lavish wedding-from-hell and a possible global apocalypse. Miraculously, Melancholia not only hangs together, it’s also moving, waspishly funny, and stunningly cinematic in its depiction of personal and planetary disintegration.
Von Trier takes perverse pleasure in inviting us to the nuptials of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), laying on alcohol-fuelled speechifying alongside a veritable smörgåsbord of angst. Beset by her neurotic sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and feuding parents (John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling), the bride understandably absconds during dessert to gaze upon her real soulmate: a solitary star in the night sky. The star, it transpires, is the planet Melancholia, set on a collision course with Earth, and getting closer by the minute.
That the end is nigh has already been established by Melancholia’s painterly prologue, with its wordless premonitions of the Earth’s final moments: an Ophelia-like Dunst lying in full bridal gear on a riverbed, Gainsbourg leaving heavy footsteps across a putting green. In visualising and dramatising his own struggles with depression, von Trier coaxes career-best work from Dunst, picking out the inner stillness in an actress commonly cast as prom queens and cheerleaders, and using it to give shape and gravitational pull to Justine’s wild mood swings.
In 2011’s other arthouse event The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick treated the planet’s origins, and its perpetuation through the family unit, as a thing of enduring, relentless wonder. Von Trier, for his part, has lived in this world: here assuming the mantle of that other great Scandinavian sceptic Bergman in wrestling with the earthly and the spiritual, he daringly proposes the end of days might come as a blessed release for some. It’s more than mere provocation: one of this extraordinary filmmaker’s most serious and sincerely felt pictures yet.