Past month, I did several of my Firsts. It was the result of a conscious effort to go outside my usual genres and try something different. And thus I have seen movies from 3 directors I have never seen any movie of, who have always made bizarre movies and probably are few of the most controversial directors in Hollywood:
1. David Lynch - Blue Velvet(1986). Though have seen The Elephant Man(1980) before, I don't remember it.
2. David Cronenberg - The Fly(1985). I have already written about it in the last post about 80s movies.
3. Lars Von Trier - Melancholia(2011). Which brings us here to another of my firsts. This Post.
I am sure that all of us are aware of the film since it's screening in Cannes earlier this year and controversy Von Trier created their with his statements. Personally, it almost felt like he was missing that controversial atmosphere which usually surrounds his movies and hence he just created one on his own. Not a point here though. So, I am sure that by now everyone at least knows about what the movie is about. Melancholia(2011) is a story of two sisters, Justina and Claire, who can not be more different from each other. In first half, It tells the story of Justine's Wedding Night from her perspective and in second part it tells the story of the day when planet Melancholia is expected to hit earth, this time from Claire's Perspective. I have been waiting to see this one since I first saw the trailer. Idea looked really promising and it was said to be von Trier's most accessible film. And then Kirsten Dunst went on to win the Best Actress Prize at Cannes as well and upon its release, mostly garnered positive responses. So, probably a good place to start for him. Since I haven't seen any of his previous work, I can not compare it with anything. But, on its own, it does stand pretty solidly.
Movie starts off with extended slow motion sequence where we see some of the characters in the film experiencing a planet, we later learn is named Melancholia, colliding with earth and its various effects on earth like birds dropping dead, roots coming out of ground. This sequence is shot beautifully and has a very good potential to unnerve you. This probably will remind you of the creation sequence of The Tree of Life(2011) though these are two polarizing events. Though it is a visual treat, at this point I wasn't sure what was I watching. It all comes through by the end. After that we see Justine's Wedding Reception. Justine is clinically depressed and though her sister has arranged an extravagant reception for her, she just needs a small nudge to go back to the dungeons of her depression. Her divorced parents and overly persuasive boss keep pushing her until she alienates herself from everyone. It all starts happily, looking like a congregation of family and friends enjoying the most important day in her life. However, slowly it becomes very clear that she is losing it.
Second Half, much more intriguing in my opinion, starts with Claire bringing severely depressed Justine to her Castle. Claire has a normal life, rich husband and almost looks like the exact opposite of Justine. Justine is so depressed that she is even unable to do mundane things like taking a bath. However, Melancholia is approaching. Claire is convinced that is going to collide even though her husband, an astronomy enthusiast, tries to convince her otherwise and this scares her to her wits. The reason I appreciated second half more than first is it gives much more depth to one dimensional characters up to now. In the hours of impending doom, Claire who has been the rock of her family in any event, starts to loose it. Justine however, who is just recovering from her own depression, handles it much bravely. Thus proving Von Trier's theory that depressed person can handle the apocalyptic event much better than normal person. Even Claire's Husband John, who comes as a snob in first half, looks like a genuine family man who cares about his family - just can not stand his in-laws. It was pretty easy to hate many of these characters after first half. Second half reminds us that they also are human. It also has my favorite line in the movie, a thought I haven't been able to get out of my head since watching. Justine says "The Earth is evil. We don't need to grieve for earth. Nobody will miss it". More I think about it, it haunts me more.
Main Reason for this film to work is some stellar performances by Kirsten Dunst(Justin), Charlotte Gainsbourg(Claire) and most of the supporting cast. Kirsten Dunst is the pick of them all. She is the perfect embodiment of depression. One second she looks like she is enjoying the festivities around her, making a conscious effort to fight it and very next frame, she is engulfed in it. She also brings a lot of credibility to her act in second act showing real calmness in the apocalyptic event. Charlotte Gainsbourg is equally impressive and so is support cast of Kiefer Sutherland (Clair's Husband), Charlotte Rampling(Their Mom), Stellan Skarsgaard(Justine's Boss) and John Hurt(Their Father). It also looks amazing thanks to amazing cinematography throughout the film. Come Award season, it should give The Tree of Life(2011) run for his money in this department. I also like the fact that Von Tries decided to focus much more on psychological effects on a single family than showing it as a mass murdering event. Because of it, it becomes much more realistic and I did not care much about any possible scientific flaws in the film. On the negative side, it moves quite slowly and is depressing almost the whole time. It might even be little stretched in few parts. However, this is no reason to miss such a wonderfully made movie. And Wait till the End !!