Movie review: Melancholia
Dir. Lars Von Trier
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland
Melancholia may be the most difficult film you didn’t see last year. It ran at the Regina Public Library from Jan. 5-8, and its release on DVD and Blu-Ray is slated for Jan. 23. But there’s a reason beyond availability that Lars Von Trier’s latest bleak and poetic nightmare won’t reach much of an audience: its pacing is glacial, its imagery is nearly impenetrable, and its tone is, well, melancholic.
Doesn’t exactly spell blockbuster.
But Melancholia may also be the best film you never saw in 2011; there is nothing else like it out there (except for maybe Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, which a colleague of mine remarked after the screening had the same kind of indecipherable cosmic imagery). Von Trier’s film is divided into three parts: a prologue that outlines in purely visual terms the narrative trajectory of the film, and then two acts each named after one of the film’s protagonists, Justine and Claire. Von Trier’s visual symphony of bleak imagery centers on flawless performances from Kirsten Dunst as Justine, a bride with self-destructive depression, and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Claire, the bride’s sister and wedding planner.
The plot is peripheral: Von Trier’s film about the end of the world is more about the melancholia that surrounds us in contemporary Western society, the melancholia that is a looming spectre not unlike the large planet Melancholia that threatens to destroy earth. But the film is about so much more than that. The film refers back to Alain Resnais’s seminal experimental narrative film Last Year at Marienbad not only in terms of its images (especially those during the first part of the film), but in terms of its unwillingness to let the plot come to the fore.
Melancholia is governed by a visual logic that hasn’t been seen on screen in 2011. 2012, you’ve got a lot of work to do to come close to what Melancholia is.