18 March 2012

Top Ten Films of the Year 2011 #2: MELANCHOLIA

 Melancholia (Lars von Trier/Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany/136mins)

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” says Charlotte Rampling as a wedding-hating mother of the bride in Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic ceremonial-buster Melancholia. It’s a sentiment echoed in the promotional poster’s tagline. As far as doomed marriages go, Justine’s (Kirsten Dunst) is dead in the water. There’s nothing to do about it. The world will end for her and everyone who RSVP’d. In the elegiac, Wagner-scored opening (similar to, but better than, the arty child-safety-ad-like intro that kicked off von Trier’s last one, Antichrist), a deathly-black reverie is aroused; it’s so slowed down that its visual beats match those of a dying pulse. Birds fall from the sky. A mother and child sink into a golf course. Paintings burn. Dunst conducts electricity, or so it seems. The narrative proper picks outs the obscure tidbits of depressive destruction in this prologue and proceeds to play the annihilation out: first on a family scale at Justine’s wedding, then on a total scale, everywhere, for everyone. Two blue planets collide oh so horribly and beautifully. This double image bookends von Trier’s best, most compelling film to date. Melancholia’s two parts (‘Justine’ and ‘Claire’ – Charlotte Gainsbourg plays the latter, the bride’s sister) show the effects of guttural, hopeless depression from Justine’s perspective on the “happiest” day of her life, and then during the fall out some undefined time later. It all occurs at the same mansion location (perhaps in Europe or maybe the US) without any interference from the outside world. That is, apart from that of another world itself. Von Trier is known to be a – perhaps self-regarding – cinematic card, both contentious and goofy. Here he’s the gloomiest of movie japers. A comic thread runs through Melancholia. But a sense of despair, of drowning in air, is the most prominent feeling we’re left with. The film, beginning to end, radiates a suffocating, uncanny aura. It’s calm yet somehow ominous. Wherever we are in their world, it’s evocatively rendered by von Trier’s skittish, searching direction (the best way to track his erratic, wayward bride) and Manuel Alberto Claro’s crepuscular, almost preternatural camerawork. It didn’t shift from my brain for days, weeks even, after seeing it. It’s still there, gnawing away at my empathy and resolve. I want to return to it as soon as I dredge up the requisite strength. It takes horsepower to get through it. But it’s worth every ounce of work put in. I enjoyed the time spent with it while it lasted.

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