Review: Melancholia

Lars Von Trier is feeling blue and when he is feeling blue he wraps it up into one giant planet size bundle and has it smash into the Earth and kill us all. The latest Von Trier film is companion piece to/mirror image of/apology for, his previous provocation Antichrist.

It's another film about his depression but unlike Antichrist, which was fired by dismembering rage, this is full of glum acceptance.

The film opens with a prelude, presenting key scenes and ideas from what follows in a heightened, glossy manner.

These opening images are beautiful but also gaudy and naff, like Tarkovsky recreating kitsch 1970s poster art such as Wings of Love, the one with the naked couple on the swan's wings.

Like the title cards in Von Trier's earlier Breaking the Waves they seem garish at the time but when they are gone you yearn to see them again.

The whole film takes place in one location, a luxurious golf resort, owned by Justine's brother in law (Kiefer Sutherland).

The first half is taken up with a lengthy wedding sequence where the happy bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst, exceptional) is gradually overwhelmed by depression.

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The whole thing is very moving but it is always perilous to take a prankster at face value. Despite seeming heartfelt, there is still the Watch Out Von Trier's About factor.

There are plenty of nods to the audience that although the film is fundamentally miserable, it's not entirely serious.

The film's score is limited to the repetition of the same extract of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde which swells up heartrendingly whenever there is a scene without dialogue.

Then there is the cheerful mix and match casting decisions: Dunst and Gainsbourg as sisters; Hurt and Rampling as Dunst and Gainsbourg's parents; Sutherland as Gainsbourg's husband. And then just to confuse, real life father and son Stellan and Alexander Skarsgard playing father and son. Having Jack Bauer in a European art film works beautifully.

Melancholia lost out to Tree of Life at Cannes and there is an odd symmetry between this paean to our demise and Malick's ode to creation. Malick's is a work of guileless evangelical fervour, of pure emotion, but for me the layer of detachment Von Trier applies ultimately carries more substance.

Funny and despairing, stark and opulent, heartfelt and evasive, haunting and beautiful, it is one of Von Trier's finest creations.


Director: Lars Von Trier

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling and Stellan Skarsgard

Length: 130 mins