‘Melancholia’ (von Trier, 2011): Review

‘Melancholia’ (von Trier, 2011): Review


Say what you like about Lars von Trier, but forgettable he ain’t. I remember the first von Trier film I saw: The Idiots, back in 1998 at London’s Curzon Soho (see!), which, along with Michael Hanneke’s Funny Games (released a year before), remains a personal cinematic marker of an entire, ephemeral era.

Fast forward over a decade and though many things remain the same, time itself seems to have sped up; the present is ever more elusive. Perhaps that’s why last year’s Melancholia struck such a deep cord. Dealing simultaneously and counter-symbolically with depression and apocalypse, the Danish director’s most recent film offers insight into a sadness and desperation so profound that you’d have to look away if it weren’t so damn beautiful.

In the lead role as depressive Justine, Kirsten Dunst is utterly convincing through various degrees of dejected despair that slowly evolve to a creepy calm as it becomes clear that the end of the world is indeed nigh. Rogue planet Melancholia’s imminent collision with Earth, initially dismissed as a false alarm, causes Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) - the sane, together sibling – to break down completely, and her formerly rationalist husband (Kiefer Sutherland) to commit cowardly suicide.

Though some critics have accused von Trier of over-egging the direction to the precipice of farce, I nevertheless found this feature to be characteristically unforgettable. Apparently inspired by a bout of depression and therapy, von Trier’s writing, combined with Dunst’s impeccable acting, delivers one of the most realistic and moving portrayals of that sorry emotional state, deftly avoiding the usual clichés .

Cinematography-wise, extended slo-mo intro and prolific leitmotifs notwithstanding, the artistic grandeur employed by von Trier is, to me, stunningly effective. Deifying pessimism with a truth that’s all too often conveniently ignored, he faces the real possibility of apocalypse – emotional and planetary – in all its horrifying beauty.