Staff Reviews: Melancholia by Bipin Anand, Member of the Board and Alan Morton, Assistant Operations Manager

Melancholia Review #1 – Bipin Anand

I’ll start with this – if you haven’t seen the trailer or read any other review or a detailed synopsis about the film – stop reading now. If you want to go to watch it, watch it without knowing anything about the film. This is how I experienced it and I’m glad I did it this way.

This film is the 3rd part of a trilogy of similar themed films I’ve watched over the past few weeks, starting with Tyrannosaur, Let’s talk about Kevin and now Melancholia. This film is also my introduction to Lars von Trier – and I’ve definitely been thrown in the deep end.

It is a deep, sad emotional film with a slow start. You get very intimate with some of the characters – and I feel that Lars von Trier does some great character building during the first half of the film. Kirsten Dunst’s character, Justine is a very complicated one. I only learned that she suffers from a kind of melancholic depression after the second part of the film. So during the first part it was very much like ‘what is her game!? Why is she doing that!?’. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character, Claire is a very normal one – you’ll find taking her side in the film much more easier.

The film is split between two parts – one, the reception party and two, the build up to the end of the world. The film begins with what looks like the end (and reminds me of the feeling you get when watching the cosmos scene of The Tree of Life or even listening to a whole Moby album in one go) – a fantastically animated scene of Earth and another planet (Melancholia) dancing to the beautiful romantic film score. The planets come together like a union and then leave you thinking ‘has this anything to do with the actual storyline of the film?’

It took me half of the film to get used to the uncomfortable cinematography of Manuel Alberto Claro. I say this because of the shaky hand held shots and the unnecessary focus pulls within most of the scenes throughout the film. It made me feel slightly uncomfortable but in hindsight, I have to now agree with how it was filmed. In fact, I now think it was a clever bit of filming to match the mood and uncertain scenes of the film.

The cast in the film is extremely varied – but in the end a very good match. Kiefer Sutherland (reminds me of Jack Bauer anytime I see him now), played an excellent role as a Father and a Husband. His character is confident and very ‘scientific’.

It is a film about family, acceptance and tolerance. It also has a mystic feeling to the affair – there are many un-answered questions that we have to accept.  The film faces the emotion of fear and how trust can be a great healer. It tackles depression and suicide in a very twisted way.

It is a film about the end of the world like it’s never been portrayed before… There is no government involvement, military control or mass panic. It stays very intimate in how 4 characters deal with what is inevitable (or is it?) in a mansion far away from any city. Some scenes are breath taking and the balance of CGI and filming is almost perfect. The use of the romantic score is unusual, but works very well.

This is yet another film where you will both love it and recommend it to everyone or you will hate it and curse Lars for what he did to you for two and quarter hours. Personally, I loved it – it is a very original story and I’m a big fan of films that aren’t developed from a book, comic, TV series or a remake – especially when they are told this uniquely.

Melancholia Review #2 – Alan Morton

Perhaps the most shocking thing about Lars Von Trier’s recent Cannes controversy was not so much what he actually said, but the fact people still rise to his provocations. Remember this is a man who sent a video of himself denouncing everyone who had hindered him throughout his career as an awards acceptance speech, claimed that the film industry needed “heterosexual films made for, about and by men” and introduced the much publicised Dogme 95 manifesto by throwing red flyers off of a stage at the audience. Von Trier is a provocateur and one imbued with a healthy dose of irony, which is seemingly lost on a lot of his detractors.

And so to Melancholia, a film that has been somewhat overshadowed by its directors festival disgracing. Which is a shame as, removed from the yoke of this controversy, Melancholia is a great film, as complex, layered and visually arresting as anything that has been submitted to Cannes this year.

The film concerns the destruction of Earth due to its collision with the vast blue titular planet that approaches its atmosphere. Yet this most catastrophic of events is, for the most part pushed to the background in favour of focusing on the family drama of the two main characters: Justine (Kirsten Dunst in award winning form) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

The film contains within its two hours of running time what could be considered an overview of Von Trier’s stylistics and continues with his current obsessions: women in various forms of distress and an articulation of the depression that afflicts the director. We have a prologue which carries over the tropes of his previous film, Antichrist: all surreal lighting, slow motion and dense imagery set against the recurring musical motif of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

This then breaks into the verite style of opening section: the handheld camera penetrating the lavish exterior of Justine’s wedding celebration which slowly unravels into a gigantic disarray of social gaffs as Justine’s depression takes hold of her. Its array of characters, the rakish, yet flaky father played by John Hurt, the catty mother (a seethingly intense Charlotte Rampling) a pushy boss, naïve husband, and strict and organised sister, create a kind of social comedy, but comedy of the blackest kind. Justine becomes an almost alien presence as she either distances herself from or is misunderstood by all those around her. The absence of a definite grounding for her depression makes a welcome change from any of the simple answers that a lot of contemporary films concerning mental health offer us. It is undoubtedly messy, but this messiness is emblematic of Justine’s mental state.

Von Trier displays a commanding use of colour and camera work as the bright, surreal colours and handheld camera of the first two sections give way to muted blues and fixed camera positions, simply and clearly reflecting Claire’s ordered and tidy life. Charlotte Gainsbourg gives a studied and understated performance that only serves to heighten a growing sense of panic, when the approaching Melancholia, descends upon her.

But what to make of the planet Melancholia and its significance to the plot? To consider it merely a physical representation of the depression that fills Justine, on one hand adds a further element to Justine’s character of self-absorption. However, this also serves to mitigate the strength of the films ideas and message. Many critics and viewers choose to see it on a grander thematic scale and have compared it to Terence Malick’s Palme D’or winning Tree of Life, and indeed their themes and rendering are comparable. But whilst Malick’s film positions the essence of humankind in an endlessly recurring cycle of creation and renewal, Von Trier pitches his story at the ultimate end, at the destruction of all life on earth.

Ultimately, Melancholia is a thought provoking film. It’s dense and disorganized at times, but filled with visual imagination and innovation. Hopefully these qualities will outlast the controversies of it’s premiere in our memories.

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