Friday, September 30, 2011

NYFF 2011: Melancholia (2011)

Lars Von Trier's follow up to Antichrist is an end of the world tale that ultimately doesn't amount to very much owing to to it's fractured nature and incomplete notions.

The film begins with a amazingly beautiful sequence that appears to be magazine ads come to life. They are the sort of thing that we might imagine that Kirsten Dunst's character might have come up in her day job. Never mind they depict the end of her mind and the end of the world, they are truly amazing.

After the world ends we flash back to Part 1 Justine. Which follows the events around Dunst's character, named Justine, on her wedding day. Its supposed to be the happiest day of her life but she swings manically from up to down and back again, always ending up in the pit of a self made hell. Granted it doesn't help that her parents are beasts and some of the others at the wedding are just as bad, she's in hell and she's not coming out.

Part 2 is Claire and it follows Justine's sister Claire as she cares for he depressed sister and obsesses about the possible (and then eventual) end of the world thanks to the newly found planet Melancholia.

What can I say, this is a fragmentary mess of a film. Its more a series of several loosely connected half films joined together to make a less then fulfilling whole. The problem here is that so much is left out. What happened before the wedding? We don't know and it it really hurts the film since there is a feeling of something there we should know, but are never told. In the second half of the film, the part about the end of the world, there is so much that isn't said that when we are told things (say about the planets approach) none of it rings true. Truth be told the end of the world seems more like an after thought than anything since it mostly feels false. (Much like Kiefer Sutherland's character who is pure mouth piece and never real person.)

Kirsten Dunst gives one hell of a fine performance (as does the rest of the cast) the problem is we only know so much of her character and the lack of details make it hard to fully connect with her. This is especially true in the second part of the film where is she basically an negative force waiting for the end of the world and only finding pleasure bathing naked in the light of the approaching engine of doom.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is amazing as well but I wish there had been more to her character than just the histrionics she is often put through.

(Why do I have the feeling that Von Trier had a longer more detailed script and then cut the life out of it for release.)

The film is overly silly at times and I had to bite my lip not to burst in uncontrolled and inappropriate laughter. On some level I wonder if Von Trier isn't playing a joke on the art house crowd by forcing them to sit through an exploitation and of the world tale, ala Roger Corman, but fancied up like a high priced call girl.

Whats the point? I don't know. My first response was that the film was pretentious twaddle, until the final half hour's march to the end kicked in and it seemed like Von Trier got his shit together. This final half hour portends what the film could have, and should have, been, a deeply affecting end of the world story. Sadly its wrecked by the preceding 105 minutes where we get two halves of two semi related films.

Some people walked out on the screening, some people booed. Many people applauded, but outside of the technical achievement I don't know what they saw in the film.

To me its a slightly dishonest film. There is something about it that makes me thing Von Trier is messing with the critics. As much as I have reservation about Antichrist I still feel there is a certain honesty there.

Ultimately I think the film is intellectually empty. It looks good, it has some emotion but I don't think it adds up to much. Had Von Trier just made the film about the end he could have made something glorious, instead he has these pieces that don't quite fit together.

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