MELANCHOLIA – Film Review [TIFF 2011]

The texture of Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia” is not unlike his other outings yet it stretches with a little more complacency despite its dark material. Unlike his earlier and slightly more accomplished “Antichrist”, the approach here is less sex-driven than morality and mortality driven. The difference molds into the separation of a more narrative driven piece. Like “Antichrist” though, the severity of Von Trier’s power resigns in the first couple minutes of his movie. Unlike the earlier-in-the-day seen screening of “The Artist” which understands this balance throughout, Von Trier, with the exception of “Dancer Of The Dark”, truly likes to begin big and end big. “Melancholia” is no different in this regard. Where it does stray in many ways is within the lack of a sub-cutting in style which always gives his films an unbalanced but utterly unique cadence.

Here, the story is filtered into two separate parts: “Justine” and “Claire”. As normal for the director, he has an undeniable fascination of the would-be maternal figure and her ability to fail at her maturity. Not as pronounced as Charlotte Gainesbourg in his slightly earlier film (“Antichrist”), Kirsten Dunst plays thr metaphor of a girl who might have everything in certain aspects but puts on a smile to make it all go away. The first part of the movie takes place at a wedding. The second half at the estate of her sister. One specific detail that tends to populate the first half of the film and less of the second is the use of humor, specifically with the forced but still effective humor of John Hurt as Dunst’s dad and Kiefer Sutherland (to a lesser degree) as her brother-in-law. The second part of the film takes a much more somber darker turn.

The background narrative of the film involves the near flyby of another planet that may or may not collide with Earth. This scale element is reflected in the intense first couple minutes as described before the title. The bombastic nature of this ode to space utterly outweighs the similar pretension that Terrence Malick attempted with “Tree Of Life” because, unlike that personification, this one has consequences. However to put things in perspective the Texas Family segment of “Tree Of Life” in terms of acting, naturalism and structure still shines brighter than the ample and able cast of “Melancholia”. This might or might not have to do with Von Trier’s apparent more hands-off structure with actors. The first few minutes of “Melancholia” however kill with a vengeance that makes you want to watch to the end while repeating a music theme that sounds similar to certain tones of “Trip To Jupiter” from “2001”.

“Melancholia” shows a Von Trier more adept at exploring a narrative based element and bordering out from his more sex-violence tinged notions of life simply in terms of trying to shock the audience instead settling in for certain ideas of context that sometimes can be more scary. That is not to downplay its originality and undeniable Von Trier structure because it still has merit that stays with you.