Thursday, 10 November 2011
Film Review: Melancholia
Last night I went to see Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard and Keifer Sutherland. The film was shown as part of the Brisbane International Film Festival, but should be on general release quite soon. It's been leading the pack at various European film festivals and awards shows, and let me tell you, this film deserves every accolade it's getting. It's one of those pieces of cinema that makes you reconsider what a film can be, and the types of human experience it can explore.
One of the things that makes this film so amazing is how believably it realizes what is a fairly far-fetched scenario. (I'm telling myself it's far-fetched. Do not contradict me. There are no planets hurtling towards us.) Justine and Claire, as well as the other characters we see, react with all the helplessness, anger, twisted resignation, preemptive grief and sheer terror that you would expect if the situation was real, and the director doesn't forget to infuse the film with the twin sensations of waiting in anticipation, and time inexorably running out. A key change from other apocalyptic films is the focus on small domestic drama, rather than the action-packed efforts of soldiers or renegades to stop the threat and save the world, and I think it's this that makes it feel like a far more genuine exploration of human nature and experience. Another contrast is the lack of grimy, desperate apocalyptic scenarios; even the planet - the instrument of the apocalypse - is rendered in greens and blues, or shining like a second moon, contributing to the strange beauty of the film's setting.
The actors handle their roles with skill; Charlotte Gainsbourg is fantastic, and I'm more interested in Kirsten Dunst than I've ever been. I can't say enough about how sympathetic and believable their portrayals of Claire and Justine are. The supporting actors are also excellent, and I thought Keifer Sutherland was unexpectedly perfect, infusing John with a likely level of entitled-lord-of-the-manor, balancing it with his obviously deep love for his wife and son, and then somehow including a weakness that makes his end utterly believable.
A lot of people I know have had bad experiences with Lars Von Trier films in the past. And yes, Dancer in the Dark was traumatic, Dogville was uncomfortably cathartic, Antichrist was horrifying, I know, I've heard. Melancholia won't necessarily change opinions of Trier as a director who likes to elicit extreme emotions from his audience, but the film is so outstanding that it's worth the risk. It's beautiful, the emotions are perfectly handled, and the ending is...well, I won't spoil it. The whole film is intense, exhilarating and sad, and you should go see it even if you need a stiff drink afterwards. (Actually, if you go to Palace Cinemas like I did, you can take the drink in with you, for fortification during. Might be a good idea...)