Melancholia is the newest film from director Lars von Trier staring Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman), Charlotte Gainsbourg (21 Grams) and Kiefer Sutherland (24). I don’t see many art house films, mostly because they play in downtown Chicago which is a bit out-of-the-way for me. I do occasionally get to see a few before they hit DVD and am sometimes pleasantly surprised as was the case with Tree of Life. Tree of Life captivated me with its mix of visual scenes cut in between it’s story. Melancholia, while similar, engrosses the viewer in its story and visual style while also having a running narrative.
The opening of the film is it’s finally, yet without context you simply sit awe-struck by its array of slow motion shots which feel like moving paintings. Dunst stars as Justine, a bride who suffers from severe depression. Her wedding is being thrown by her sister Claire, played by Gainsbourg, and her husband John played Sutherland. Justine’s depression endlessly hammers her throughout her wedding reception (we don’t see the ceremony), though I can see why what with a Father who spends the reception hitting on two women, a mother who doesn’t actually believe in marriage whatsoever, and a boss who attempts to get her to come up with an ad slogan while celebrating. Throughout the reception Claire attempts to lead her sister through the reception to just get it over and done with. Justine’s illness overwhelms her and Claire eventually loses control of her, during the cake cutting ceremony she wanders off to take a bath. Von Trier, who notably had a battle with depression before the filming of Antichrist, captures the disease hauntingly accurately with his portrayal of the reception, no matter how many times it seems that Justine can set it aside for a moment, it comes back to drag her back down. As much as this wedding sounds like a disaster, a much bigger one looms.
The film is split into two chapters, chapter 1 entitled “Justine” and chapter 2 entitled “Claire”. Chapter 2 involves Justine’s lost battle with her depression and Claire and John’s attempt to support her while taking care of their son. While Claire tends to her sister, John keeps himself busy with his telescope. John is a bit of astronomer, and along with his son, is tracking the fly by of the planet Melancholia. We learn that the planet had been hidden behind the sun and that it’s line of orbit is about to meet Earth’s. Much like Justine’s depression, Melancholia is on a path of destruction, heading closer and closer to Earth each day. Throughout the film we hear Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde which, alongside the beautiful lighting and scenery, brings about a sense of only what I can deem as acceptance. Much like the characters must face the fact that the world is about to end, the audience is forced into a state where we see the end of these character’s life as inevitable and are left to dwell on the cinematic visuals of the film.
I didn’t enjoy Melancholia as much as Tree of Life, maybe it was because of the subject matter but I was captivated throughout most of it. Dunst gives an outstanding performance, she was recognized by winning best actress at Cannes this year, but I also thought that Charlotte Gainsbourg was great as well. I will warn readers though, if you enjoyed Melancholia I would think twice about checking out von Trier’s last film Antichrist, it’s a bit, well, sadistic to say the least.