Melancholia: 2011 AFI Fest

By November 12, 2011AFI Film Festival

I should have had a glass of wine before this one.

Lars Von Trier is known for his unsettling, shocking and gruesome journey into the human psyche. Melancholia may not be as horrific as his last film Antichrist, but it still remains subtly terrifying. Everyone fears. Von Trier knows this and although he made a movie specifically about fearing the end of the world, it’s hard not to let your own anxiety creep in, realizing just how relatable the story really is.

Good for Kirsten Dunst. She’s been around for a while and some may disagree, but I think she’s been one to watch since her performance as a little killer in Interview With A Vampire. This time around she’s a young bride crippled first mentally and then physically with a disease that remains nameless throughout the film. We assume it’s a form of melancholia. We first meet her as Justine, pretty and puffy in a wedding gown fit for a princess. Her relationship with her husband Michael seems genuine and full of laughter. Their reception is held at her sister’s home, a massive estate with an 18-hole golf course. As the night progresses, the couple’s happy mirage fades. First off, Justine’s mother is beyond unsupportive delivering a toast no one would want from the mother in law let alone their own mother. Her father is a drunk and a fool. She wanders off throughout the night, disappearing to take a bath or take a ride on the golf cart into the green abyss. We find this behavior peculiar, but Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) isn’t surprised. She tries to encourage her sister but her husband John, played like a true rich bastard by Keifer Sutherland, is beyond annoyed. He keeps repeating how much the wedding has cost him and how infantile Justine’s actions are. We suspect there’s a larger problem at bay.

The second half of the film is from Claire’s point of view. There is a planet that has been hiding behind the son named Melancholia. Some say it will collide with earth, destroying it completely. This is a side of Claire we didn’t see before, she remained so confident during her sister’s wedding fiasco. Now, she’s the one in fear. Her worries are far from assuaged when Justine moves in with the family. John promises Claire the planet will pass them safely, but the anxiety continues to plague her.

Before the screening began, Ms. Dunst and Udo Kier, who plays the wedding planner, welcomed the audience, saying a few words. They joked, “Lars doesn’t see a psychiatrist about his problems. He makes films.”

Von Trier is known for this. The year he won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, he almost did not attend the ceremony. He has so many phobias, he could only make the trip in a specially outfitted trailer. Melancholia had quite the introduction this past year at Cannes. Trier was declared 'persona non grata' at the festival after claiming to sympathize with Adolph Hitler and joking about being a Nazi at the official press conference. This director is undeniably controversial. People walking into Melancholia should not expect to walk about with any sense of understanding regarding human behavior, but they should expect insight.

From the beginning, you feel as if you’re the one holding the camera. It’s fitting for a wedding, where the audience might as well be the videographer. The camera peers around the corner, finding Justine sitting alone on stacks of reception chairs or peeing on the golf course. If this was in fact the wedding video, there’s plenty you’d want to edit out before showing the bride and groom. Trier sacrifices the glam of high definition, highly edited cinematography for the nitty, gritty hand-held effect. It works wonderfully.

Trier once said, “A film should be like a rock in a shoe.” This is exactly what Melancholia proves to be. It’s a movie when I speak about to other people about I simply say, “Go see it. It’s worth paying the money to see it on the big screen.” And they usually say, “You think it was good?” That’s something I’ll leave up to them. No doubt they will relate, seeing the subtle comparison Trier makes with depression and the end of the world. How they feel the same. It’s an icky subject; some will shy away, not wanting to confront their own anxieties. But those brave enough will savor this rock in their shoe, which I warn will stay planted for quite a while.