Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fun at the movies: Melancholia

Onto happier topics today, Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia! (as I said at the beginning of the year, I might write about films occasionally so move on if you’re not interested). I know it’s been out a while but I just got to it so indulge me.

I have no problem saying that, in general, Lars Von Trier films are not for me. That’s ok but I’ve seen my share and have either been scarred and/or offended by them for varying reasons. When I’m in a contrarian mood you could almost say I hate his films so when I give a recommendation for Melancholia (a glowing one, in fact), this endorsement does not come lightly. I only watched the film because my girlfriend was really keen to see it and going in I think subconsciously I was determined to despise it but I was wrong – this film is elegant, funny, disturbing and ultimately captivating. In no terms does it bear any notion of reality and some characters are mere contrivance rather than being fully fleshed out but my lord, this film is beautiful and moving in a visceral way – the kind of cinema that sticks with you long after you’ve seen it (it’s been two weeks since I’ve seen it and I’ve thought about it everyday).

The story is kind of simple in some respects and is played in two acts. The first is a wedding reception which slowly unwinds (both dramatically and comically) as the bride succumbs to depression. The second half is based around the idea that a planet, Melancholia, is going to collide with the Earth and how the characters established in the wedding deal with it. Prepare yourself, this film is big on art film wank pretension – the first ten minutes are a collage of beautifully rendered slow motion scenes based in both fantasy and coming events while later in the film everytime the actors look at the alien planet in the sky, it might as well have the word METAPHOR written in huge letters written across it. All I can say is, forget all that because while it may have those pretentions, the drive of the narrative and the immersive world it creates moves the film beyond any contrivance and forms a bold meditation on depression. In that respect that is what most touching because the film somehow captures the trauma, hopelessness and absurd nature of depression (when I say absurd I’m not being dismissive – even in the grimmest of hellholes you can create for yourself, you can often objectively see that life is pretty good but you just can’t grasp it or connect and that can be darkly funny). Kirsten Dunst is pretty stellar here as the troubled Justine, her performance is nuanced and in the right side of overdramatic and given my previous favourite film of hers was the cheerleading comedy Bring it on, that was a surprise. The rest of the cast are excellent as well, Charlotte Gainsbourg is particularly good as Justine’s long suffering sister. The only real casualty here is Charlotte Rampling whose character is so extreme that it borders on caricature.

The other thing is that after all that Dogma ‘95 rubbish that Von Trier went on about years ago where he expounded austerity in production and lighting, he has gone totally the other way this time – this film is gorgeous and there are some scenes which are breath taking. Even subtle things such as the double shadows cast by the moon and Melancholia create this strange alternate reality that is fascinating.

I guess I don’t want to talk about the film too much because I think it’s best to go in to a film without too much plot. I have a feeling this isn’t for everyone but I was blown away, I seriously loved this film and get shivers thinking about it now. It’s obvious from the earlier paragraph (and I make no secret of it) that I have suffered from depression in my life and maybe that is why I had such a strong reaction to the film. But I think the film is more than that and can’t be easily dismissed. I can’t even pretend to understand it all (I wish I had a far more eloquent analysis of it) but I hope to unravel it over many viewings in the future. A great, great film.


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