Monday, August 22, 2011

Melancholia (2011) – Review

Review: Melancholia is a visually astounding character drama – exploding with tension, fantastic performances and a beautiful and sort of tragic atmosphere. Director Lars von Trier tells us what we can expect right from the prologue (which reminded me a lot of Kanye West’s music video for Power, the way von Trier’s shots are essentially moving stills), basically showing us everything we are about to experience in a drawn out display of a series of elegant and striking images set to Richard Wagner’s Tristian and Isolde Prelude. It is a very powerful opening, but at the same time it is isolating for many moviegoers. It screams art film, though this is not a bad thing (and in fact, it is too bad that art film seems to have a negative meaning for the average moviegoers). The film in a lot of ways resembles Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, just with more of a defined narrative structure, in that the characters are not burdened with laying out all their thoughts and feelings in words or clichés, rather the film allows the characters to be more subtle, relying instead on the juxtaposition of images to derive meaning , and the atmosphere and tone that von Trier creates plays into their performances and how we perceived them. As, thanks to the prologue, we know this is not going to end happily. This is not a Hollywood movie with grand missions and last ditch efforts to save the Earth. This is about these characters. What I really liked about it is that it is essential a disaster film, yet it is so personal and small in scale (narrative wise, that visually there are some grand shots). Here are these few characters isolated and completely helpless. von Trier also did well to juxtapose the sisters Justine and Claire. Their relationship goes through such an elaborate role reversal. But also, as independent characters, their journeys are quite intriguing and profound. The opening scene of the narrative, Justine and Michael in the limo as it tries to navigate a difficult turn, starts the characters on such a happy note – and this coming just after we see the Earth destroyed by a massive planet colliding with it in the prologue. So, right off the bat, we know this happiness is doomed. But von Trier, delays the impending annihilation rather focusing on digging into his characters and their relationships in part one. Which works, as the audience gets invested, making what is to come all the more difficult to accept and emotional. Part two seems like a totally different film in a way. Characters change in the face of the disaster, and it is very compelling to witness this change. As visually stunning as Melancholia is, it is the character work and performances that make it the engrossing piece that it is (but, wow are the visuals wonderful).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Lars von Trier is an exceptional and nonconventional filmmaker. Of his films using Hollywood actors, I think Melancholia is his best (and I like Dogville a lot too). It has a lot more going on than I think I was able to fully ascertain on the first viewing (random stuff like, it was mentioned a number of times that the estate featured an 18-hole golf course, but there is a shot of Justine walking across the green of a 19th hole, or why would Justine’s horse never cross the bridge, the same bridge that the golf cart dies on near the end). Plus, von Trier has this whole theme of good and evil playing under the main theme that comes to the surface in what Justine says about the Earth – all life being evil. It is definitely a film I want to see again. And that is a great compliment to both von Trier and the film. I did not think there was going to be better cinematography this year after seeing Emmanuel Lubezki’s in The Tree of Life, but Manuel Alberto Claro’s work on this film is as good and maybe even better. It completely blew me away. What makes it so brilliant is that it is completely grand and epic in scale and in its framing, and the color pallet is so clean and probably a bit saturated with mostly solid colors. Yet, it also captured the characters so specifically, there nuances. The eyes do most of the work in this film. Production designer Jette Lehmann also does exceptional work in creating the look of the film. I hope both these artists get more work from this film. The cast is very good; however there are only three roles of much substance. Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Alexander Skarsgard, and Stellan Skarsgard are all good in their limited parts. Kiefer Sutherland is quite good as a man who tries to be so strong and sort of a know-it-all, but underneath is actually very scared. Charlotte Gainsbourg is wonderful as Claire, the sister who has it all together but just does not know what to do in the face of her mortality, completely losing it. And, Kirsten Dunst is magnificent as Justine. She can convey so much with her eyes and mouth.

Summary & score: Melancholia is not going to appeal or work for everyone, it is far too specific in its style and narrative aspirations for that. I found it to be beautiful and very moving. 8/10

1 comment:

  1. I haven't seen this movie yet but after reading your review I find it quite good. I think character in this movie are very strongly written. I watched the trailer of the movie and it was interesting.I really want to watch this movie. Thanks for the review.
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