Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Melancholia ★★★

It’s a weird, weird film

Releases in Australian Cinemas 15th December, 2011
Other Country Release Dates

Picture this—a hand holding a daisy and systematically picking off the leaves.  ‘I love it.  I hate it. I love it. I hate it.’
That’s me on my thoughts on Melancholia.   A quick cruise around the internet film review pages and you will find commentary swinging both ways.  This is a film that filmgoers will either think is magnificent and compelling in its imagery and analogy.  Or a self-indulgence of the highest order by Director, Lars Von Trier, who is enjoying his own melancholia on our dime.
Actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays one of the two central characters in the film even said of Melancholia: ‘It’s a weird film.’  Von Trier laughed at this and said, ‘That was lovely, because I was worried that “weird” was somehow lacking a bit.’
The film opens with a series of slow motion sequences and stills played to the overture of ‘Tristan and Isolde’.  These are beautiful works of moving art and they play out the entire plot even up to the devastating end.  So, if the title, Melancholia, doesn’t give it away, you are never in any doubt that this is not going to be an easy film to watch.
It’s a two part story.  The first part centres on Justine (Kirsten Dunst).  Today is her wedding day and she should be happy.  Everyone wants her to be happy and keeps telling her that.  She has just married Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) and the wedding party is held at her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John’s (Kiefer Sutherland) magnificent castle overlooking the ocean. 
As the story unfolds Claire, overwhelmed by the day, descends into a depression before our eyes and then indulges in a sequence of bizarre activities away from the wedding celebrations.  The wedding guests have their own strange little moments and this goes some way to explaining Claire’s mental issues, ala her philandering selfish Father (John Hurt) and her depressed and bitter Mother (Charlotte Rampling).
Bring on part two—just in time—because this is a wedding we, the film guests, want to leave.  We want the planet.  This part is entitled Claire.  Here we learn there is an undiscovered planet called Melancholia about to fly by the Earth. 
It won’t hit Earth or that is what Claire’s husband, John, believes.  It will be the view of a lifetime, captured by much fussing with his telescope and the excitement of sharing the spectacle with his young son.
 Claire is not so sure, constantly googling it’s flight path, which has it colliding with the much smaller Earth.  Justine arrives at the castle, barely, and spends much of her time depressed and non-communicative. 
The last twenty minutes of the film, focusing on Justine, Claire and her young son, are heartbreaking.  As each scene leads towards the inevitable, most audiences would themselves be wondering: If I had an hour to live, what would I do? 
Lars Von Trier battles depression and enjoys some pretty crazy behaviour himself.  At this years Cannes Film Festival, he was declared "persona non grata" thanks to his press conference ‘I am a Nazi’ speech’.  Melancholia is his homage to the state of being that for he, and others, clearly feels as if the world is ending.  In this, he has definitely succeeded.
There is a lot to admire in this film. Von Trier has created strong roles and directed his actors to perform at their peak. Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her habitation of the depressive Justine.
In the end, after picking my daisy to pieces—something I have never done with a film before—I am left with just the stem.  I judge films on whether or not they deliver their promise to their audience.  If as a filmgoer you are looking for a light piece of entertainment or a science fiction journey into the end of the world, this is not for you.
However, if you loved ‘Tree of Life’ (I didn’t) and subscribe to the theory of existentialism, then this one will have you salivating over your popcorn.  Von Trier is not subtle and that may be the flaw in the film.  We don’t need to be beaten over the head for an hour to understand Justine has a problem. And we don’t need to watch people for another hour, watching a planet cruise towards them, to understand the enormity of their situation.
So Lars, if you were going for weird and self-indulgent then I hand you a five star rating.  But the problem with weirdness is that it isolates those who just want to enjoy themselves.  Viewing depression, through Justine’s eyes, is an eye-opening experience.  Viewing it through Von Trier’s 135 minute film is beautiful and ugly, boring and mesmerising, and ultimately very, very weird.