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Melancholia - DVD Review

Melancholia

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

THE clue is in the title for what to expect to be feeling after you’ve experienced Lars von Trier’s latest. Though less showy and offensive than his last film, the notorious Antichrist, Melancholia still manages to pose very serious questions about the perceived greatness of this particular director.

At well over two hours, the film is also bum and mind-numbingly drawn out, while wallowing in its despairing tone. When one character states glibly ‘the Earth is evil, no one will grieve for it’, you get the feeling that von Trier feels the same. Or maybe he’s just been perversely playful.

Melancholia is split into two chapters yet is essentially the same end-of-the-world tale as seen through the eyes of two sisters. Chapter one is largely devoted to ‘Justine’ (Kirsten Dunst), whose farcical wedding is the focus of attention, while chapter two leans more towards ‘Claire’ (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her despair at the approaching apocalypse.

Von Trier uses both sisters’ opposing world views to examine themes of apathy, depression, acceptance and engagement. Where Justine is battling depression, even on her wedding day, and finds it hard to connect, Claire is continually trying to do right thing and to remain hopeful.

As such, and dependent on your own views on life’s big issues I suppose, Chapter 2 is more easy to identify with, especially in the way that it gives Gainsbourg more screen time and offers the closest thing to heart and soul available in the movie.

It’s here, too, that Kiefer Sutherland gets to shine as her husband… a star-gazing expert who steadfastly believes that the approaching planet, Melancholia, will miss the Earth by inches and therefore preserve the human race.

Chapter one, meanwhile, only really alludes to the approaching Melancholia (as a foreboding red dot in the sky), preferring instead to spend time at the wedding ‘celebration’ as various members of Justine’s family enjoy themselves (as in John Hurt’s case) or create more friction (step forward Charlotte Rampling).

Caught in the midst of this is Justine herself, a mentally fragile individual who is trying to avoid another episode that might ruin her day, as well as her hapless husband (Alexander Skarsgard) who seems at best oblivious, at worst completely out of his depth with his wife’s turmoil.

Von Trier, for his part, directs this first chapter in the style that first brought him prominence, throwing in some witty but barbed humour along the way, before drawing the chapter to its depressing conclusion.

Chapter two is less structured but builds the impending sense of doom well, closing with a striking image of the two sisters preparing for the inevitable against the foreboding backdrop of Melancholia itself.

Ironically, von Trier refrains from too much showboating during the finale, preferring instead to open his film with some startling slo-motion images of the havoc caused by Melancholia’s impact as played out by its main characters. It’s a striking start to the film but one that also feels self-indulgent.

Taken as a whole, however, Melancholia simply fails to engage on an emotional level while drawing the same accusations of pretentiousness that got levelled, by some critics, at The Tree of Life. For all of its lofty ambition, it’s destined to leave you cold and utterly depressed.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 136mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: January 23, 2012