Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fantastic Fest 2011 Movie Review- MELANCHOLIA- He Said

Directed by: Lars von Trier
Written by: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland,
Alexander Skarsgard, and Stellan Skarsgard
Synopsis: As a planet that was previously hidden behind the sun hurtles towards Earth,
two sisters deal with family drama and depression.

Lars von Trier is as much of a spectacle as his movies are.  Some find him and his work to be completely devoid of value or meaning, and others find him completely fascinating.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  I've grown enamored with the way that he does things, even if he doesn't always get a movie right all the time. He's one of the few directors out there that you know has made the movie that he wanted to make. With that being said, MELANCHOLIA might just be one of his finest works to date by continuing the exploration of severe depression that was started with ANTICHRIST. 

The big gimmick of the movie is the looming planet of Melancholia which is a very imminent presence over our characters before it's even discovered and even more so when you see it in the night sky. But the movie is so much more than just people on the eve of Armageddon that not even Bruce Willis can pull us out of.  It's a very poignant and harsh look at depression, fear ,and how badly they can cripple people to the point of catatonia. In what I hope are roles that get them better recognition, Dunst and Gainsbourg carry this movie both in their own individual sections with a surprising intensity and honesty.

The movie starts with a beautiful introduction showing some very cosmic and fantastic imagery that will haunt you for the rest of the movie and actually became a point of contention among some people on when that imagery should have been presented.  The story is cut in half between the wedding scenes, that are the focus of the marketing, before Melancholia is discovered, and then afterwards as the planet does the "Dance of Death" with Earth.  Let's start off by saying that I liked the camera work, especially in the wedding section, where it had a very intimate and almost documentary feel.  During this part, we focus on Justine (Dunst) and her wedding and the drama going on around it.  She is not happy at all,  and there doesn't seem to be a reason why she shouldn't be her husband, who is a caring and kind man.  Even though her sister (Gainsbourg) paid for her party at the gorgeous golf course/hotel that her husband owns, it seems that Justine cannot stop herself from being anti-social, angry, and just destroying the life that she would have had. 

In a way that juxtaposes the serious emotional turmoil, the imagery is very beautiful with a lot of shots that lend themselves to paintings given the fantastic backdrop of the golf course.  I'm not going to lie, I felt more than a few times that I was watching a re-cast RACHEL GETTING MARRIED scene.  As you keep on going through the movie, you see that Claire and Justine are two very sick people; both sad, yet both dealing with it differently.  Justine seems to be embracing her depression to the point of barely functioning as a human being, while Claire seems to deny that there is anything wrong and tries to stay optimistic instead of dealing with her problem.

All of this comes to head in the second section where we focus on the aftermath of the discovery of Melancholia, and how Claire and her family deal with the possibility of doom.  When discussing this movie with some better and more awesome critics, they mentioned that this second section dragged on too long and subsequently had all of its tension diminished by the introduction.  I have to disagree because I found the fact that you had such a huge global impact, yet von Trier made the decision to take that down to the most personal level.  So for me, seeing all of the relationships and the world breaking down was a difficult thing to watch, but nevertheless, I couldn't look away.

For all of the praise I have given the movie, I do wish that that were more moments NOT just showing the sisters being upset.  I only say this because while it may be a really great portrayal of depression, narratively speaking, it would be better to give context and show some contrast between Claire and Justine to see them actually being happy instead of always being so depressed. The supporting cast seems to be there just to add gimmicky award prestige because none of the Skarsgards or John Hurt added much to the movie.  But you could have had so many other character actors play them that it's almost distracting knowing so many faces. Also, there some really bizarre scenes that seem to belong more in ANTICHRIST than in this movie, and it definitely took me out of the movie.

Overall, your enjoyment of the movie will depend on your experiences with depression. If you know someone that has death or you have dealt with it yourself, it might affect your to the point of tears or make you want to watch kitten videos on the Internet.  Not to get too personal, but yes I have been depressed before, and yes I can see how Claire felt when she just could not be happy.  For me, I found it cathartic in a lot of ways and an interesting exploration of the subject.

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