PFF – Review: Melancholia

Everywhere you look these days new films are tackling mental illness, the end of the world, or both. Leave it to provocateur, Hitler commentator, and visual poet Lars Von Trier (Dogville, Antichrist, Breaking The Waves) to tie the two subjects together with an uncanny verve and a vision which, while pitch-dark, contains more than a shred of hope.

In the best of the film’s many excellent performances, Kirstin Dunst (Cannes Best Actress) plays Justine, a new bride who’s experiencing acute depression, which she refers to as feeling “a little sad.” The first half of the film is a brilliant Bergmanesque study of the most primal elements of a dysfunctional family to end all dysfunctional families. There’s a toast from Justine’s raggedy father (John Hurt) that ignores the bride and groom and directly slings an arrow at his shrew of an ex-wife (a stone-cold (fox) Charlotte Rampling). Her reply to the couple is “Enjoy it while it lasts. I hate marriage.” They never get to find out since shenanigans bordering on the surreal soon take place, including an incident with the bride in an uncompromising position with a co-worker on the sprawling front lawn of her sister and brother-in-law’s mansion. Before we know it Rampling’s son-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland) is throwing Rampling’s belongings out the front door and Dunst tells off her advertising agency honcho boss (a perfect Stellan Skarsgard)–all before the cake is even cut. Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood, Stellan’s real life son) plays the clueless groom, not accidentally an American.

Charlotte Gainsbourg, as Dunst’s toe-the-line older sister, is highly memorable as Dunst’s protector and rival. During the film’s key second half her character changes most dramatically as the planet Melancholia heads for a possible collision with The Earth. Gainsbourg is increasingly fretful for her young child despite Sutherland telling everyone not to worry. Science assures the dreaded collision won’t happen. It’s no spoiler to unveil he’s mistaken. His ostensible voice of reason throughout the wedding fiasco as the patriarchal domineering head of the family comes up short, paving the way for the increasingly demented Justine to provide a genuine way of coping with The End. Like Genevieve Bujold in King of Hearts her madness provides the creative sanity for the monumental crisis. The film’s use of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” is a true thing of beauty and Von Trier’s stunning visuals enhance this frightening yet cathartic allegory of life and death. The film’s ending is one of the most moving finales imaginable.

Just try to imagine it…….. it’s better than that.

9 Mad Apocalypses (Out of 10)

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