Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Like most of my cinephile counterparts, I am equipped with a distinct ability to separate the art from the artist.

After Lars von Trier’s painfully inappropriate Cannes press conference (the one where he said he understood Hitler, and hated some, but not all, Jews), you can’t exactly fault a person for labeling von Trier as depressed scum, and that by supporting his films, you’re supporting a monster.  My solution: create two different opinions, one for von Trier, the man, and another for von Trier, the filmmaker.

To be clear: Lars von Trier is an asshole, but he’s an extremely talented asshole.  Von Trier – or rather, the characters in his films – smash erect penises with wood blocks, tell their wives to sleep with other men, shoot babies, rape women, hang innocent people, and so on.  Yet somehow, rather miraculously, the man has asserted himself as one of the world’s premiere filmmakers.  While viewers may not be able to stomach his films, it’s simply impossible to argue that they are not well made.

So now, after the brutal hell of his last, most lacerating film, Antichrist, we get one of his tamest, but no less thrilling, movies yet. 

Melancholia starts much the same way Antichrist did, with an extended slow motion sequence that, at first, appears to be nothing more than pleasing sights and sounds.  Whereas the prologue in Antichrist affected everything that happened after, Melancholia’s introduction plays more like a wondrous fever dream of what may, or may not, occur.

The narrative begins with freshly married couple Justine (Kirsten Dunst, effortless) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård, delightfully aloof) humorously arriving late to their reception at the estate that Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) shares with her wealthy husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland).  What transpires, slowly, beautifully, is the wedding reception from hell. 
Immediately upon arrival, Claire warns her sister to not fall into what appears to be one of her frequent spells of manic depression.  The girls’ mother, played with perfect bitterness by Charlotte Rampling, devotes her wedding toast to bashing love, marriage, and the girls’ father (John Hurt, still at it).  Justine’s boss (a devilishly slimy Stellan Skarsgård) toasts to Justine’s talent as a copywriter, and warns that if work is not completed by night’s end, serious consequences will follow.  Basically, Justine’s friends and family are like the cast of Modern Family stuck in purgatory.  They’re busting at the seams with ego, hatred, and self-loathing. 

“I tried to kick your mother out,” John says to Justine late in the evening.
“You usually do,” she calmly retorts.

I’m an incredible fan of Lars von Trier’s work.  Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Antichrist, and especially Breaking the Waves, represent some of the finest films released in the past 15 years.  Before, I enjoyed von Trier’s work mostly because of its audacity.  It wasn’t until Melancholia that I became fully aware of how much I appreciate von Trier’s eye for craft.  His tone and overall mise en scène is, more often than not, quite flawless.
In addition to Melancholia’s story (which, for the record, takes many dramatic turns that I see no point in ruining here), the film looks amazing.  Its camera floats and glides and stumbles in all the right places, catching all the right action.  Its editing is calm yet appropriately abrupt.  Its music is soothing yet loud.  Much like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, Melancholia is as close to technical perfection as I’ve seen in any film so far this year.

Add a tonally seamless script and faultless acting (Dunst justly won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival) and you’ve got the makings of a unique, jaw-dropping head trip that completely justifies its massive scope.

This year has been better to us film enthusiasts than the past two.  Much is to thank for this, mainly the brashness of Bridesmaids and The Trip, the bizarre wonderment of The Tree of Life and Drive, and, yes, the unique beauty Melancholia.  A

NoteMelancholia will have a limited run in theaters beginning on Nov. 18.  Currently, you can find it On Demand via your cable provider.  Which you should do.  Right now.


  1. Glad to know I'm not the only von Trier fan. BREAKING THE WAVES, THE IDIOTS, DANCER IN THE DARK, DOGVILLE and ANTICHRIST are all in my top 100 films of all time, so I cannot wait to see this!

  2. Can't wait to hear what you think. I really dug it.

  3. Very good review of a very good movie. Too bad you had to mention the miserable 'Bridesmaids', though!

  4. Ha. I thought Bridesmaids was a breath of fresh for a lifeless genre. With the exception of Liana Liberato in Trust, Melissa McCarthy has given the best supporting actress performance I've seen so far this year.

    But hey, glad we can agree on Melancholia. Thanks for reading!

  5. Now you've gone and got yourself back in my good books again by mentioning the brilliance of Liberato. Great save!

    But back to Melancholia. I've said in other places how much it affected me simply because I suffer from the same affliction. I'm no von Trier fan at all, but this to me was his best work, and maybe his most accessible - which, presumably, is another reason as to why I like it so much.

  6. Hmm. I found this an ordeal when I watched it a MIFF. I had polarising opinions about the two halves. I loved the sequences at the wedding (and Dunst was excellent) but when the film shifted to focus on Gainsbourg, I lost interest and thought the film became tedious and boring. It looked great and there was the usual Von Trier brilliance, but I just didn't get involved as much as I hoped. Still, great review. I want to watch it again, and see what I think then. For me: B-

  7. @Colin, I agree that it's by far the most accessible mainstream film he's done. And yeah, when a can relate to a movie on a personal level, it only makes the movie better. There are a handful of flicks that I absolutely love, but that most others find just mediocre, simply because I can relate to it personally.

    @Andy, you know, when the movie was over, I thought this may be the case with some people. You make a completely valid point, but, for whatever reason, I was completely into it. I really wanna see it again too, I feel like I'd take away even more from it (especially that opening sequence.)

  8. Haven't seen this film yet so I'm not going to read your review for now. I like your "separating the man from the filmmaker" approach.

    Nick really wanted to see this - don't think he has yet. Me...meh. I would be fine with not catching it but I probably will.

  9. I understand you not being that interested in seeing it. I think, by now, you're either interested in von Trier's work, or you're not.

    But like Colin said, I think it's definitely some of his most accessible work. I really liked it, and I'd be interested to read what you think.

  10. I haven't seen it yet, but I hope to do it soon in theaters. I think you are right to separate the Lars von trier film maker from Lars von Trier the man. I was talking to someone about his movies and his actions and I've heard some very interesting things- I will read more about him!

  11. I wonder how long the no more interviews thing will last.

  12. I was initially put off, when Lars von trier himself spoke about how he wasn't sure it was a great film.
    Anyway, I feel I should at least give the new film a chance, and look forward to reading your review, when I've seen it!

  13. @Aziza, oh... the dude is nuts, for sure. but he makes great movies. definitely check him out.

    @pturner, probably until his next interview haha. dude just needs a censor

    @Chris, that makes sense to me that he would doubt if it's a good movie or not. it's not as raw as his others. but it's definitely a great film.

  14. @Alex: I have now seen Melancholia, and while I didn't love it as much as you, it had its moments for me, particularly the first hour, the stunning opening impressed me the most, and strangely was more powerful for me than the ending ( :

    I found it distracting that C Gainsbourg and K Dunst were talking in American and British accents, yet were sisters, and also they don't look like sisters either.
    I'd give Melancholia a 6 or 7 out of 10. Maybe I just didn't get the point. Possibly it can be read autobiographically, about Lars Von Trier projecting his own depression and dysfunctional relationships onto the screen, other than that, who knows.

  15. Actors playing siblings that look nothing alike doesn't bother me anymore. I suppose I'm used to it by now. But Dunst's lack of an accent (her mother, father, and sister curiously talk with British accents) definitely perplexed me. But I think this is von Trier's intention. Maybe I'm giving him too much credit, I don't know. But by the end, I was okay with it.

    I think most every von Trier is semi-autobiographical; he's openly admitted several times that he helps curb his chronic depression by making films. The dude is seriously flawed, but I dig his flicks.

    Glad you (somewhat) enjoy it!

  16. Interesting post, I really want to see the film now as everyone seems to have a different opinion on it.

    1. Thanks! Oh I LOVE Lars Von Trier, but his work is definitely polarizing for sure. This is one of his most "tame" films, but I highly recommend it.

    2. I've recently watched Melancholia and reviewed it , Just thought you would like to know