Monday, August 6, 2012

Monday Matinee: Melancholia (2011)

It was a very large "close your eyes and hope for the best" kind of situation when my husband and I cued this movie up on our Netflix.  It is directed by Lars Von Trier, a Danish fellow who has been heralded as a genius, but just as often inspires a violent kind of loathing for his work.  If you want some lazy fun one afternoon, just Google him and see.  There is generally no middle ground.  

Hubby and I would be in the loathing category.  I admit this is a bit judgmental because I've only seen a few of his movies (The Kingdom, Dogville, Antichrist).  But we hated Antichrist SO MUCH...we were so offended by everything that movie stood for...that I doubted I would ever be able to evaluate one of his movies impartially ever again.

But Melancholia got such praise that we had to try.  And even a couple of weeks after I've seen the thing, I'm not entirely sure how I feel.  Loathing is not one of my emotions however.

The movie begins with an absolutely stunning slow-motion sequence...artistic, surreal shots of the movie's characters in both vignettes symbolic of their lives, and of their last moments before the planet Melancholia may collide with Earth.  All to the prelude of Wagner's opera "Tristan und Isolde".  If you only have 10 minutes to spare, watch this.  It's probably the best part of the movie.  That, and the last 10 minutes.

The movie is then split into two parts.  In Part I, it is Justine's (Kirsten Dunst) wedding night.  She has a wide-eyed adoring husband (Alexander Skarsgard) and her reception is being paid for by her uber-wealthy sister and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland), in their gazillion-dollar mansion.  But Justine is broken on the inside and suffering from severe depression, and soon things begin to fall apart.  Justine leaves the reception to take a bath, then leaves again later to have sex with a young party guest out on the golf course.  Her control unravels while her dysfunctional family bickers, the groom leaves and her stolid sister tries to smooth the wrinkles.  And while melancholia saturates the wedding party, Melancholia hurtles towards Earth.  This portion of the movie was rather uninspiring, unless you want a case study on depression in a stomach-turning, uncomfortable car wreck kind of way.    

In Part 2, the wedding is over (in every way possible).  Now the focus is on this rogue planet that may or may not hit the Earth.  Justine, who is hanging out at her sister's mansion, has adopted a Zen-like calm in the face of possible annihilation.  The roles are reversed and her sister is in a fevered panic, but her husband and son are treating it all like a fascinating science project.  Questions are entertained about how one spends their last breathing hours (which of course starts a spirited discussion in the Nawrot household).  It was good fun, this second half.  Because everyone loves a good apocalypse.  Don't they?  

Based on the Von Trier movies I've seen, I might say that he tries a little too hard to be clever and artistic.  For example, there are all kinds of highbrow references and allusions to classic art and music embedded within this movie.  He throws in random nudity, scenes that are supposed to look like a famous painting, etc.  I'm not sure what he is trying to prove with all this...that he is a cultured genius?  See, I still have bad-attitude-baggage-anger over Antichrist.  But aside from all this posturing, I will admit that there is something entrancing about this movie that won't leave me.  The end of days will do that to you.

I might add that the acting is first-rate with a loaded cast in their finest hour.  Dunst actually won Best Actress at Cannes.  

If you are looking for something a little different (you can always count on different from this director) and can stand the discomfort of the first part, you could be pleasantly surprised.  Or you could hate it.

4 out of 5 stars    


bermudaonion said...

You watch some of the most interesting movies! I have a feeling this one is not for me.

Beth F said...

Ugh. I'm not sure this is for me, but the cast ... Hummmm. Maybe I can talk Mr. BFR into giving it a try.

Unknown said...

I think even his biggest fans both love and hate his work. I thought The Kingdom was one of the creepiest movies (Television shows) that I've ever seen. I'm one of the few people who liked Dogville. I haven't seen Antichrist.

I loved Dancer in the Dark, so did C.J. our friend had to walk out of it, too emotional for her. I thought Breaking the Waves was good, but not a huge fan of it.

You might enjoy his early movie Zentropa. It's about Germany just after the war. Lots of weird showy stuff, like you mention, but an interesting story, too.

I didn't make it through melancholia. I finished part one and gave up. Maybe I'll give it another go. But I need a much bigger screen to really enjoy it. What I saw was very visual.

For all his craziness, he's movies are very beautiful.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

As BFR said, Ugh! Artistic is not for me!

caite said...

When ever I hear someone called a genius, I get very, very nervous. I am all for artistic, but not sure this is for me.

Julie P. said...

I doubt this one is for me!

Zibilee said...

Nope. This one is not for me. I don't like it when directors attempt to get all highbrow and smugly genius in a movie that I just want to watch and enjoy. And this Antichrist business is something that I KNOW would have pissed me off.

Anonymous said...

The chances of me watching this are slim to nil (only because we're a rarely-watch-a-movie household (unless of course it's something we've seen 10 gajillion times, and then HB is all over it)). However, that last picture in your post is amazing...kinda makes me want to see it on a big screen.

Darlene said...

Oh, this definitely sounds like something I would like for sure. I know I can always get good movie recommendations from you. Lol.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I watched this one and it is so strange. It's an interesting picture of depression and it's visually stunning, but like you said, his movies always leave me cold. I hated Dogville.

Anonymous said...

"He throws in random nudity"

As far as I can remember Melancolia had two nude scenes and both were as far from random and gratuitous as they could be.

Jenners said...

I was curious to see what you thought of this as I've been intrigued by all the reviews I've read of it. I would watch it just to see Kirsten Dunst act well … I didn't know she had it in her.

Unknown said...

Great review! I loved how Melancholia was broken up into two parts showing how Justine changed throughout the movie. It seemed to me that where Justine’s depression ended Claire’s worn down behavior took it’s place. I will say that Lars von Trier’s artistic style is why I love his work. I heard enough mixed feelings about this movie from coworkers of mine at DISH that I had to finally check it out on my own. I added it to the top of my Blockbuster @Home queue a few days ago and finally got it in the mail earlier today. I’m not one for purchasing movies right off the bat, so it’s great that I got the chance to save some money by renting. I liked it so much though, I’ll probably be adding it to my DVD collection.