Okay, let me start the review of this much-anticipated Lars von Trier movie with two statements of intent. 1) Prior to seeing Melancholia, I had seen three Lars von Trier movies – Dancer In The Dark (classic), Dogville (classic) and Antichrist (which I disliked but grudgingly admired for the reaction it provoked) – and so I wanted to enjoy this big release from the controversial director. 2) Lars von Trier loves to cause a controversy and seems to revel in extreme opinions raised by his work so I am only too happy to oblige.
Because Melancholia is one of the dullest, most self-indulgent, horrible pieces of work it has been my misfortune to be eagerly awaiting in many years. A great cast is wasted, some great imagery is wasted and the chance to amaze audiences and take them on a visually lush, thought-provoking journey is well and truly wasted.
There’s a new planet that’s appeared and, damn and double damn, it may be about to cause the end of the Earth. Or it may not. Whether the planet is destroyed or not, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) has to get through her big wedding day to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) under the nervy, watchful eye of her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Other people, including the parents of the bride, bicker and add to the tension until the second half of the movie chooses to focus on . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . Justine and Claire discussing their differences and differing beliefs while John (Claire’s husband, played by Kiefer Sutherland) tries to calm both of them down and stop letting the new, exciting planet change all of their lives.
Overusing the slow motion and stylish imagery that provided such great visuals in Antichrist, von Trier this time around simply takes his bag of tricks and spills them out onto the screen with carelessness and an even more heavy-handed approach than usual. And the fact that the writer-director has now moved so far away from the rules established by the Dogme style that when he DOES deliberately go back to some minimalism and naturalistic sequences it calls attention to the fact that doing so detracts from the atmosphere and flow of the movie.
Kirsten Dunst does quite well in a leading role that doesn’t play to any of her strengths. Charlotte Gainsbourg provides us with one of the most annoying characters I have ever had to endure onscreen. Everyone else? They may be very good but they’re sorely underused. Alexander Skarsgard – underused. Kiefer Sutherland – underused. Stellan Skarsgard – underused. Can you guess what I’m about to say about the great Udo Kier, John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling? Oh yes, underused.
There’s some beautiful music throughout and I have to admit that a few images were almost works of art but when the good stuff amounts to roughly 5-10 minutes within a 2 hour-plus movie it’s just not good enough.
Lars von Trier is also responsible for the writing and fails completely on this front, too. I, and many of the other audience members similarly fatigued by the whole experience, just didn’t want to put any effort in while considering the ideas that von Trier was weaving throughout the movie. Differing belief systems and how those with different beliefs go through life side by side, the most basic fears of our own mortality, etc, etc. This may be a misinterpretation, there’s probably a lot more going on there for intellectuals to chew on, but I just didn’t care enough about any of the movie to waste any extra energy on the thing.
I’m sure that Mr Lars von Trier will be happy to have provoked such a response. I wish that he’d provoked a better one.
Melancholia is released on 30th September here in the UK.
DIRECTOR: LARS VON TRIER
STARS: KIRSTEN DUNST, CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG, ALEXANDER SKARSGARD, STELLAN SKARSGARD, KIEFER SUTHERLAND
RUNTIME: 136 MINS APPROX