Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Melancholia (2011)

Melancholia is a special film, to say the least. It is a difficult film to review, primarily due to its story structure, because the generally accepted and unspoken rule that the reviewer may not spoil anything that happens after the 1st act cannot apply to such a film. Luckily, I’m writing this review almost a full year after its release, so I can simply follow the method of the reviewers before me.

The film opens with a sequence of extremely slo-mo shots depicting the end of the world, and the film (don’t worry, not a spoiler), through the collision of two planets. There are around 16 shots altogether, and they are all some of the most beautiful images I have ever seen in my life. They really are. The only quarrel I have is that one or two of them lean slightly too much towards photography, rather than cinematography. They just don’t really have enough movement to be considered actual cinematography. But this really the most minor of minor complaints.

It is, for all intents and purposes, actually two films. Part 1, titled “Justine” follows the wedding of Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsg√•rd) set in a massive resort owned by John (Kiefer Sutherland), who is wedded to Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Throughout the night, we are introduced to numerous characters, each of them being just as unlikeable as the last. This isn’t a fault of the film, but rather a conscious decision on Lars von Trier’s part. It is clear to the viewer that he believes human beings to be inherently self-centred, maybe even plain evil, as we see each person have at least one scene that makes us wish for some terrible thing to happen to the resort. We also witness Justine slowly break down over the course of her wedding. Her completely irrational decisions, while infuriating, are also rather intriguing to watch, as we never can anticipate her reaction to anything. We see Claire attempt ever-so-painfully to snap Justine back to her sensible self, making her the only even slightly redeemable character in the film. Part 1 is coloured almost entirely with warm reds and browns, which contrasts strangely with the often uncomfortable interactions on-screen.

Part 2, titled “Claire”, takes somewhat of a turn from the first part’s subject matter. The wedding has ended, and we are now left with Justine, Claire, John and their young son. Claire takes on the leading role now, as we witness the actions and interactions of a dysfunctional group of people presented with the extremely nigh end of the world. We watch them attempt desperately to pull themselves together, fool themselves into believing the world isn’t going to end, and even feeling something akin to Stockholm syndrome towards this planet. Justine is the only person who can keep herself together in part 2, which strikes an interesting parallel with the roles of Justine and Claire in the two parts. Another noticeable contrast with part 1 is the colour palette; greys and whites now dominate the background. In the end (haha), part 2 is a far more fascinating human study than part 1’s uncomfortable, yet capturing, formal interactions.

One particular annoyance I felt throughout Melancholia was the repetitiveness of the music. There are maybe 8 minutes of music throughout the entire film, and a particularly dramatic section of music is repeated whenever anything of any importance ever happens. The piece is certainly powerful and effectively exclamates whatever is going on on-screen. However, there’s no reason that multiple songs couldn’t be used to achieve the same effect. I’d like to mention the possibility that I was simply not paying enough attention, and the score actually did have multiple songs, but they were of a similar tone. I know this is something that many composers like to do (Clint Mansell’s score on The Fountain comes to mind), but it honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the tracks in Melancholia if this was the case.

The acting is, as many have stated before me, fantastic. There’s not a single second of bad acting in the entire film. Despite this, I don’t think it is quite on the same level as others do, and don’t think it’s worthy of the amount of praise, particularly towards Kirsten Dunst, it has received.

Despite all the positivity I feel towards this film, I understand that plenty of people will be completely bored by it. There isn’t all that much of a plot, so if narrative is your kind of thing, search elsewhere. Don’t be fooled by the enticing mention of things such as colliding planets and the apocalypse. This movie is about people, bad people, and nothing else. However, if you have any interest in cinematography, unconventional story structure, or if you just agree with Lars von trier for some reason, go watch this movie. Now.

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