Apologies first for my total failure to bring you a review of John Carter this week. I am short of funds and my local cinema is only showing the 3D version with a £2.50 price hike for the pleasure of added eye strain. Sod that basically. Next week maybe, it seems to be doing OK here in the UK. So in it’s place I have a review for a movie about a planet that’s gonna collide with Earth and only Bruce Willis and a crack team of oil drillers can stop it. Doesn’t look like a Michael Bay film though. No mention of Bruce. Why is Kirsten Dunst having a piss on a golf course? Directed by Lars Von Trier? oh…. ohhh.
So all the advertising for Melancholia decided to focus on the premise of a planet, conveniently titled Melancholia itself, heading on a collision course with our little polluted ball of war and excess. Yes that’s in the film, mostly its second half, but the film is really about the depression of one woman (Justine – Kirsten Dunst) and her relationship with her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Von Trier does enjoy delving into depression and life altering emotional states, as seen in Antichrist a couple of years back. Here Dunst does a very fine job of playing a crushingly depressed woman who has finally grown tired of pretending to be happy.
The film is split into two halves, each named for one of the two sisters, the first focusing on the wedding reception of Justine and her new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) and the second focusing on Claire as she looks after Justine and awaits the fly by of the planet Melancholia. The first half meanders along a fair bit but it is partly because of the state of mind of Justine. She can’t stay in one place and is always looking for an excuse to escape the overly lavish party put on for her by Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland). She tries to appear happy, and she possibly is, but is unable to show it for too long. Ever been a bit down in the dumps and been had someone try to force you to smile? Just makes you feel worse right? That’s Justine’s life. It doesn’t help that a lot of her family just show a complete lack of understanding for her condition. Actually lead me to dislike the lot of them. This first half does feel as though it drags a little though because of the lack of genuine plot development but towards its conclusion events ramp up and we’re ready for the films real meat, the Claire chapter.
The second part is where we learn about the planet that’s due to pass Earth. Claire isn’t convinced though. She’s been on that darned internet and there’s people out there saying that the planet will collide with Earth. John reassures her it won’t. He’s a scientist of some sort and he claims that the scaremongers out there are just after attention. Nether the less the idea of all life on Earth coming to an end is worrying Claire a fair bit. What doesn’t help is that as she gets more and more scared Justine begins to come out of her crippling depression. There’s a lot more character interplay going on in this half and the film moves by at a much more comfortable pace because of it. Von Trier even manages to play with your perceptions of what is to come despite showing the films end in its opening sequence.
The opening sequence shows just why Lars Von Trier is considered a top tier director these days. Shot in ultra slow motion, I’d assume on a Phantom, and in a real widescreen ratio (Good old trusty 2.35 : 1 folks!) the opening scenes and the whole film look stunning. And not that hack Tarseem style stunning. David Lean stunning. Obviously not the same actual style though I should stress. He’s managed to shake off the attention seeking shock factor style his earlier films had and has been showing some real cinematic prowess over his last few films. I find it quite impressive that he has the pull to get films such as this and Antichrist made in the modern film market. Both are pretty hard going and unique films. Above all else they’re a sign that intelligent cinema does have a place in the multiplex these days. Despite what the latest Adam Sandler films would have you believe.
Like a lot of Von Trier films the audio, from the dialogue to the score, is quite sparse. Waste words he does not. There’s very few scenes with more than a few lines of dialogue, some with none what-so-ever. The score uses the prelude to Wagner’s Tristen Und Isolde to great effect. I do like it when a film uses a piece of classical music to help set a scene rather than pick out a random song that happened to be on the directors iPod that day. Although I suppose I have no idea if Lars what’s on Lars’ iPod.
Whilst the films first half can be a little polarising due to its slow pace and the detestable nature of many of the characters the second half really picks things up and gradually moves towards a powerfully staged conclusion. Dunst is superb and seems to have learned a few hangdog expression tricks from her Spider-Man co-star Tobey Maguire, except she doesn’t look like she’s taking a shit as she sulks. I do struggle to understand how this family of British aristocrats can have one American accented daughter but I guess that just adds to Justine’s out of place-ness. In all the film is a strong piece of cinema that can sit well among Von Triers best. Now all he has to do is make a film where he doesn’t call himself a Nazi in the press conference and he might have something that actually gets seen by the mainstream masses.