Melancholia (starring Kirsten Dunst)
Sometimes a film comes around that other critics love and shower praise upon that this critic frankly just doesn’t get. Last year it was the pointless SOMEWHERE and this year it is the pretentious MELANCHOLIA.
Divided into two halves, MELANCHOLIA follows two sisters just before the end of the world. The first half is an awkward wedding reception focusing on the bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst). While it begins with some sweet moments from the new married couple, it quickly becomes painfully obvious that Justine is dealing with some deeper depression as she continually leaves the reception to bathe, sleep or walk around outside. The unusual family, faceless friends and even the groom (Alexander Skarsgård) seem to be fully aware that these actions would be a possibility and foolishly believe if they can just get through the night everything will be just fine.
The second half of the film focuses more heavily on Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), while dealing with the impeding doom of a new planet Melancholia on a collision course toward earth. The entire film is located on a beautiful estate owned by Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), a well-educated man who hates dealing with the depression of Justine that his wife insists upon. Claire and John have a little boy who is also in the picture and while John can sometimes seem a little cranky he loves his family and is optimistic about the earth’s survival. Claire on the other hand, is a nervous wreck hopelessly seeking some form of solitude from her moody sister who has quietly accepted the world’s fate.
I have not been the biggest Dunst fan, but she does an excellent job here, even winning Best Actress at Cannes Film Festival for her performance. But while all the attention has been on Dunst and her character, I personally felt more connected and impressed with the performance from Gainsbourg. However, performances aside, I had trouble understanding, relating or believing most of the characters actions and thought process. And while I found the setting and certain situations presented interesting, none of the characters are all that likeable and Justine comes off as an irredeemably bad person. Throughout the entire wedding, I kept waiting for something more to happen but I was distracted by constant irrationality from all the characters involved. The entire first half seemed almost meaningless. I liked the idea of the second half of focusing on a small family dynamic amongst an impending doom but for the most part the drama never materialized. One might be able to pull out a symbolic correlation paralleling the two sisters and the world’s mortality of life and death, but it’s a reach and I fail to understand that purpose.
The haunting score and wonderful cinematography are quite breathtaking creating a sort of tension that never is fully matched in story. The mansion and landscape of the location used is an absolutely perfect setting to have either a wedding reception or watch a planet crash into the earth. The first ten minutes of the film are full of striking images that are beautifully abstract and dreamlike. However, the slow-motion use combined with the amount of time director Lars Von Trier chose to spend on each image was quite distracting and off-putting. I found myself quickly becoming bored and then laughing at the absurdity of the length. It just kept going and without learning anything of the film yet, I had no investment in looking at the pictures for so long.
MELANCHOLIA wants to be the abstract film with a deeper meaning that was THE TREE OF LIFE, but falls way short of achieving the greatness it pretends to be. Depression is a serious issue that other films, either comedy or drama, have tackled better. The directing and characters of this film made me feel all too sad, but in a boring and frustrating way rather than a thought-provoking and emotional way.