Film Reviews

MELANCHOLIA

By • Oct 20th, 2011 •

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MELANCHOLIA lacks anything as disgusting as Willem Dafoe ejaculating blood instead of semen in ANTICHRIST (2009), Lars von Trier’s previous, sensationalist film.

Instead of ejaculate, we have the near-psychotic bad behavior of Justine (Kirsten Dunst), who is but one of the “melancholics” in the film. The other is the fictional, hidden-behind-the-sun planet, “Melancholia.” Only von Trier would think to create a threatening, invented planet, when climate change is already destroying the one we live on at an accelerating pace.

Von Trier rather gives away the game of this end-of-the-earth movie by showing two planets colliding in his opening sequence – anticipating Melancholia looming up to burst our planet at the end.

But the picture is not really about this silly, dual premise. It gives the misbehaving Justine (Dunst) a showy part to display her gifts for those who failed to catch her brilliant, spoiled title character in MARIE ANTOINETTE, Sofia Coppola’s 2006 flossy, cotton candy historical film. Dunst’s Justine (no – not the de Sade nor the Durrell ones) is the show-piece that garnered Ms. Dunst the Best Actress Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Now Ms. Dunst can be taken more seriously than as Spider Man’s recurring girl friend.

There are a number of scenes that stay in the memory along with the calendar-art long shot of Ms. Dunst, lying nude on the greensward, displaying her bountiful breasts, which are amazing, if you like that sort of thing. (Dunst’s ripe melon breasts echo her expansive apple cheeks.)

Part One of MELANCHOLIA takes place at the expensive, up-scale wedding party of Justine and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), who is tall, lanky and stunning, if you like that sort of thing. “First you say you will and then you won’t” is the on/off, hostile game Justine plays with her hubby during the party (when she urgently pulls his hand to her crotch) and after the party (when he undresses for their wedding night, only for her to reject him.) Both scenes are memorable as is Justine’s subsequent, alternative congress with the little twerp nephew of her big shot, ad-man boss. The ad-man torments the twerp by saying he will only give him an entry-level job if he procures the tag line from Justine for a new product line’s ad campaign.

In turn – as a wedding present – Justine is promoted from copywriter to art director, a promotion she throws in her boss’ face. (With von Trier, dramatic conflict is usually about very bad public behavior. Instead of giving the young twerp the tag, Justine has it off with him in a sand trap of the nearby golf course. (Surprisingly von Trier only shows the coupling in long shot, although the twerp, in later proposing to Justine, says the sand-trap sex with her was his best ever.)

The film begins with a curtain of falling autumn leaves, but there are two subsequent showers of heavenly droppings (petals? seeds? planetary debris?) that possibly signify the impending planets’ collision.

The Love/Death theme from “Tristan and Isolde” is featured prominently throughout the film. “I desired to dive headlong into the abyss of German romanticism,” says von Trier.” “Wagner in spades!” Oh, is that why von Trier plays the Liebestod not once, not twice, not three times, or four times, until I lost count. “Headlong” indeed. This tiresome re-use instead of using another lush Wagner motif, might well be von Trier’s dumb repetition, rather than immersion.

For a change of pace, von Trier has cast Charlotte Gainsbourg, the viciously vindictive wife (responsible for the bloody ejaculation in ANTICHRIST), as Justine’s infinitely sweet and maternal, comforting sister, Claire, for whom the second half of the film is named. (Claire’s husband is played by Keifer Sutherland in a singularly ungrateful, secondary part.) Gainsbourg plays sisterly/matronly responsiveness perfectly, despite our visual discomfort at her inherited French singer-father’s horse-faced silhouette.

Von Trier is helped, at almost every turn, by the contributions of his dazzling cinematographer, Manuel Alberto Claro, whose name and credits are unknown to me.

Well, at least von Trier has gotten away from the two-dimensional, Brechtian, cardboard cut-out sets and malevolence of DOGVILLE (2003) and MANDERLAY (2005).

Justine, like the melancholic von Trier, loves to make a spectacle of him/herself. I might be equally intoxicated if only I could, simultaneously, quaff good champagne along with the wedding guests and reside in the posh, paneled halls of the Sutherland-character’s great Swedish castle.

To think that just 15 years ago, when I was introduced to von Trier’s work (at a Montreal Film Festival) by his brilliant BREAKING THE WAVES (1996), I thought he was going to be a major talent. Now he’s dismissed by me, and a number of other like-minded critics, as a mere theater-of-cruelty sensationalist who doesn’t travel – even to the New York Film Festival which keeps on promoting his increasingly trivial work.

After four hundred plus years, Shakespeare’s ‘Melancholy Dane,’ “Hamlet,” supersedes von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA to the nth degree.

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