Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Von Trier manages to attract and not repulse

Its ominous presence looms closer with each passing day and consumes with an insatiable appetite every ounce of energy within its range.

The planet that targets Earth and threatens its inhabitants is not the only antagonist in Lars von Trier's latest film Melancholia.

Known for his relentlessly dark and cynical films, like the 2009 sacrilegious Antichrist, von Trier indulges us with the same depressing tone in this drama centered around a family who deals with a family member's mental illness, all while preparing for a cataclysm between their earth and a passing planet--Melancholia.

Kirsten Dunst leads this film, playing Justine, a bride with a morbid personality trying to get through her wedding night without wasting away into her miserably contagious attitude towards everything and everyone. This includes her husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) who holds hope she'll pull through. Justine's sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is the gentle-natured character who cares for Justine, but worries for her own sanity when Melancholia fails to recede from its trajectory towards Earth. Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard, John Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland round out this A-list cast.

The plot makes you depressed just reading about it, but leave it to von Trier to bleed out any speck of hope or possible pleasure. I'll never look at musicals the same way after Dancer in the Dark. But there's something special about this film compared to his others. For one thing, it actually makes sense, or rather as much sense as you'll make out of any of his other films. One thing you'll never be while watching a von Trier film is bored. He employs symbolism and metaphorical images in almost every scene. Melancholia explores the mind's psyche and the paranoia associated with it. It delves deep into the issue analyzed in this film and more than anything is original.

Consistently overlooked during award season, I'd like to see this film get a few nominations, at least in the acting categories, i.e. John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling. If you have yet to see any of his earlier work, let Melancholia be your gate-way film. It'll give you context of what von Trier is about and at least an appreciation for his originally dark storytelling. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Rating: A-

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