Melancholia is the latest film from Lars von Trier. The film is broken up into 2 sections, one titled Justine, the Kirsten Dunst character and the other section titled Claire, who is Justine's older sister, played by Charlotte Gainsborough.
It is a film I decided I had to get through, even though I found it at times boring, poorly written and regarding one minor character, poorly acted.
I had about given up when I then sat down to watch the second half and be quite captivated. I found the second half to be well written, extremely well acted by everyone; enthralling even. And actually it made me understand and appreciate the first half more.
Treir is so into his actors improvising that I think some of them in the wedding reception scene are better at it than others. While much of the film is so drawn out, in other moments Treir decided "Ok lets show she has a mean mother" and the mother who we have never seen before, stands up and gives a ludicrously mean speech. Ludicrous at a wedding reception, even by mean mother character standards. Then we never see her again. For such a paced film this felt like Trier realizing, "oh crap I forgot the mean mother character! Quick say something mean right now!"
But the film is called "Melancholia," not "Subtlety."
Justine and Claire are sisters but they have different accents. Is Justine adopted? I suppose this doesn't matter. I wonder if it was intentional to show their contrast. Actually there are different accents throughout the reception.
We get Kirsten Dunst in a role that she owns. She is really what got me through the first half of the film. Her character is getting married and then we slowly realize she suffers from mental illness. She is sad at what should be her happiest moments and does strangely inappropriate things because the whole spectacle feels a bit too overwhelming. By the time the wedding is over, so is the marriage and no one seems all that surprised, including even the groom. I've never felt Dunst was some great actress but I've also always thought she was a bit underrated as well. I enjoyed her in Marie Antoinette for example, among other things. Here she is given a great role and she proves she has chops. She won the Best Actress Award at Cannes in 2011 for this role, and I can't say she didn't deserve it.
I read that originally Penelope Cruz was cast in this role but had to back out due to a scheduling conflict. I think this is fortunate. While Cruz is a decent enough actress I don't think we would have gotten with her what we got out of Dunst. The slow progression of happy to sad before our eyes.
I felt with Melancholia, a similar way I felt about Orson Welles', The Trial. Captivating and nearly unwatchable would be words to describe both of these films. Where Melancholia got me was the Claire character realizing that a larger planet was going to crash into Earth and her reaction as well as how Justine reacts. Oh, did I mention that? That adds some tension to everything and explains a bit, the odd behavior of people in the first half of the film, even if experts are telling the public the planet will skirt by, but miss.
Treir, who has suffered from depression, said he got the idea for the film when at one therapy session he was told depressed people handle stressful situations better than other people.
How would we react if we knew a planet was moments away from crashing into ours and destroying us all? I mean besides the obvious AUUUUUGGGGGHHHH!!!!! Claire suggests a glass of wine and some music. Justine is not overly impressed.
But this is not a big budget Hollywood version of a disaster film. It is drama told in a fairly unique way. Like the drama of a quiet independent film, and well the world is gonna end in a minute too. There is that.
I have seen people running and screaming in the streets enough. I haven't seen 3 people all alone trying to face this, sitting on a golf course.
Claire is caregiver to her sister Justine; who is so depressed by the second half of the film, as to almost be catatonic.
By the end of the film the roles are reversing themselves. Justine is the calm sister who knows how to calm her young nephew and to a smaller extent Claire down as well. Maybe because she knows what the end of the world feels like. She, unlike them, experiences it almost every day.
I don't think I can yet call myself a Trier fan. But after seeing 3 of his films now, if someone asks if I like or dislike him as a director, I can answer honestly; "yes."