Genre: Sci-Fi • Drama
Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland
Duration: 130 min.
Justine and Michael are celebrating their marriage at a sumptuous party held at the exclusive home of her sister and brother-in-law. Meanwhile, the planet, Melancholia, is headed on a deadly collision course towards Earth...
Melancholia is a film written and directed by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. It premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where Kirsten Dunst received the award for Best Actress.
Lars von Trier's latest is a work that contains staggering beauty and at times unrelenting frustration. Starting with a now familiar slow motion opening sequence that serves as a twisted highlight reel prologue for the movie to come, comprised of astonishing images and bombastic sound that would just as appropriately fit an apocalyptic designer perfume ad campaign for The Tree of Death™. The film continues from there in two parts, each of them centered on one of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and their vastly different outlooks and dispositions on life, as the end of the world approaches.
As Justine, Kirsten Dunst is the embodiment of depression, and her steady self destructive march in the first half of the film is presented in a troubling yet entirely captivating manner. Taking place on her wedding night, things start off happily and lighthearted, but we soon discover that it's all an act. Dunst fully channels a wide range of external emotions for Justine's interactions with her husband, friends, and family. However they all betray her true feelings, inside she is eclipsed by a crushing feeling of dread, and with this she delivers one of the most convincing and devastating depictions of depression ever rendered on screen.
The second half switches the focus to Claire, and Charlotte Gainsbourg brings an equally solid if not quite as emotionally riveting turn, as she tries impossibly to lift her sister from depression, while also dealing with her own family and the growing prospect of impending doom. It's interesting to see that as the planet Melancholia moves closer, the two sisters begin to trade places, Justine opens up ready to embrace the end while Claire clams up from terrible fear, it's also where the strongest exchanges of dialog in the film take place between the two of them. In this second part, the film also switches from a large lively ensemble to a much more quiet and intimate picture while maintaining the same magnificent setting, a monstrous secluded stone mansion where Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) live with their son Leo (Cameron Spurr).
This isn't exactly a perfect film though, it works masterfully as a disturbing metaphoric portrait of the misunderstood illness of depression, but sadly the story does not hold up well enough to justify the film's length. The plodding segments are understandable when you consider Justine's state of mind, but ultimately only serve to drag out the narrative. Also the otherwise intriguing sci-fi premise completely falls apart under any amount of logical scrutiny. Not a fatal flaw in this case, but worth noting.
Despite its lack of scientific credibility, questionable pacing, and grim subject matter, the film's dazzling imagery, awards caliber acting, as well as several memorable appearances from the accomplished supporting cast, help keep us glued to the screen for its entirety. Capped off with an ending where von Trier rewards us with a truly awe inspiring final sequence. The best finish I've seen all year, and one that must be seen on a big screen with big sound.
— Bonjour Tristesse