Lars Von Trier may not be the best stand-up comedian out there but when it comes to making really good, really odd, really overblown surrealist films very few match the Danish director's unique talents. Forget the arty noir of Lynch, forget the V/O poetry of Malick, this is a Dali-molesting-baby-Magritte-with-a-chicken-head type of madness that's definitely not for everyone but which should appeal to fans of super slo-mo and talking foxes alike.
For those unsure about giving Von Trier's film a go, check out Antichrist (lol). Now, Melancholia is nowhere near as twisted as the director's previous effort but you'll know pretty quickly whether this is a style you can get behind or whether the pretentious nature of the film proves too much to take. His films are a hard pill to swallow and I myself had no idea what to make of Antichrist at first.
It occurred to me that I enjoy Von Trier's films on several levels: the silly overblown stuff I like in that it's usually pretty random and ridiculous so it makes the film kind of…funny. On the other hand I usually agree with the guy's underlying messages and I love how creative the symbolism often is. His films, especially in recent years, also look amazing regardless of whose clitoris is being cut.
But enough about Antichrist, onto Melancholia.
Pretty much the same kind of vibe, even Charlotte Gainsbourg is back but whereas Antichrist was very much a horror film this is, oddly, a sci-fi take on the meaninglessness and inherent chaotic cruelty of mankind. The story is told in two parts: the first focusing on Kirsten Dunst’s awkward post-wedding ceremony, the second on her sister (played by Gainsbourg) and the feared impending doom of potentially world-destroying planet Melancholia. It’s a great concept and the film’s end-of-the-world scenario is classily handled and genuinely unnerving.
The film boasts a terrific supporting cast with the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling doing a great job throughout. As a whole, the film is very close to perfection and if it weren’t for a few nagging little…nags it would simply be the best film of the year. Some characters feel more like caricatures, I’m thinking of Udo Kier’s camp wedding planner, which distracts from the film’s otherwise sharp focus. The slo-mo prologue and the very last shot are questionable in that the film could have easily done without them but they work well enough regardless. It should be noted also that some minor “symbolic” moments feel a bit forced and way too obvious: Dunst in her wedding dress raping strangers, pissing on a golf course? I’m guessing she doesn’t like…her current environment?
Overall, as previously stated, your enjoyment of Melancholia will depend on the way you take in a Lars Von Trier film. Those who appreciate the cynically off-beat filmmaker’s work, though, will not be disappointed. It is infinitely more accessible than Antichrist and much less disturbing: just as good but very different. Whether you reject Melancholia as one of the worst films of the year or one of the best, it’s unlikely you’ll forget it in a hurry, the image of the mysterious planet heading towards Earth alone should stick for a while. I for one really enjoyed it, mostly for its awesome concept, and found it to be a very smart, very well played, striking achievement and with brain-numbing efforts like Real Steel peppering every cinema throughout the year, it was a welcome change.
You could say Real Steel and Melancholia are “worlds apart”.
*pisses on golf course*