Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany, 2011. Zentropa Entertainments, Memfis Film, Zentropa International Sweden, Slot Machine, Liberator Productions, Zentropa International Koln, Film i Vast, Danmarks Radio, Arte France Cinema, Sveriges Television, Canal+, Centre National du Cinema et de L’Image Animee, CineCinema, Edition Video, Nordisk Film Distribution, Det Danske Filminstitut, Eurimages, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Swedish Film Institute, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen. Screenplay by Lars Von Trier. Cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro. Produced by Louise Vesth. Production Design by Jette Lehmann. Costume Design by Manon Rasmussen. Film Editing by Molly Marlene Stensgaard. Cannes Film Festival 2011. Independent Spirit Awards 2011. Toronto International Film Festival 2011.
Lars Von Trier goes for epic grandeur but never quite reaches the limits of his magnificent scope with this science-fiction melodrama. The first half takes place at a wedding being held at a ritzy golf course, where bride Kirsten Dunst is unable to shake off her massive depression enough to be satisfied with either her beautiful day of ceremonies or her partnership with her new husband (Alexander Skarsgard in an underwritten role). Her older sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is unendingly frustrated with her, while her brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland) is angry that he is footing the bill for this fiasco. Cut to some time later, where the second part of the film has Dunst show up at her sister’s home in a state of full mental illness to be placed under her family’s care, while outside the Earth’s atmosphere an incredible phenomenon is happening: the planet Melancholia, until now blocked by the sun (cause that happens) is going to fly by the Earth and, according to some doomsday radicals, is actually going to destroy us. Dunst’s inability to cope with everyday reality suddenly vanishes when under the threat of complete annihilation, while Gainsbourg, who up until now has been the one who has it together, finds herself slowly unraveling with fear. It has been more than a decade since Von Trier’s arthouse hit Breaking The Waves, and it seems that in the years since he has lost his ability to really go wild with his characters’ eccentricities. Anyone would be happy to watch him explore the furthest corners of these personalities as they wander his gorgeous images, while simultaneously soaking in the rich musical score and nifty visual effects; even the ridiculous plot, which happily foregoes all conventional notions of science, would be possible to swallow if von Trier put a little glee into his narrative whimsy. The film’s eventual effect, however, is simple meandering: we spend time with these people but we don’t learn much about them, and Dunst’s character never really gains any ground going from one psychological extreme to the other. Thankfully Gainsbourg has charisma in spades and is endlessly watchable, but her character’s anxiety (versus Dunst’s depression) doesn’t make for that fascinating a contrast. Von Trier has done something interesting in manifesting his own neurosis by making it a threat from outer space, sort of a Solaris for the manic depressive, but unlike Tarkovsky’s classic he does not use it as an opportunity to explore questions of the universe or humanity but opaquely indulges in his own frustrations (and, believe me, it takes a lot more than what’s here to make us feel to sorry for rich, white people). It has its rewards, but not an abundance of them.