After the harrowingly dark and depressing experience I had with Lars Von Trier's Antichrist a couple of years I go I was sort of dreading his latest film Melancholia. Even though the film dealt with the fantastical idea that a planet, ten times the size of the earth and has been hiding behind the sun all this time, is about to crash in to our planet and destroy it, I knew that Trier would never do a special effects laden epic about the end of the world, in fact all that stuff is taken care of in the opening minutes of the film in a gorgeous sequence with Trier going back to some of the imagery in Antichrist. An incredibly well shot sequence where every image could be framed on a wall.
Justine is getting married. It should be the happiest day of her life, marrying a handsome man, getting a promotion as a wedding present from her boss and has a big expensive wedding party to top it all off. But unknown to most people other than her family she battles with severe depression and manages to essentially ruin her marriage by the end of the day. Falling deeper in to her illness she seeks out the help of her sister Claire and moves to her estate where her unpredictable and damaging behavior is a strain on her and her family. Most annoyed by Justine is Claire's husband John who, when not bitching about Justine's condition, spends his time getting ready for the arrival of Melancholia, the giant planet on a collision course with earth. John is convinced that the giant planet will not hit earth as scientists have calculated that so, Claire is convinced that the world will end and is freaking out and Justine? Well Justine doesn't give a damn and accepts what is coming.
Von Trier created a slogan for himself that goes "No More Happy Endings" when preparing for this, and while he shows how the film will end in the opening moments of the it I felt that the ending of it was in fact quite positive, as positive as an ending where EVERYBODY dies in the end can get.
Most people know that Von Trier has battled with depression for years so it's pretty easy to assume that this film is somehow about him in some way. But Trier doesn't work that way, he hates when people try to over think his films and only uses his depression as a model on how Justine would behave. Essentially this is a film about impending death and how people react to it in a different way, even going so far as to show the classic stages of grief in one long sequence. But death doesn't have to be a sad thing, there can be beauty in how we prepare for it and also how it can heal wounds between people.
On a technical level this film is on par with Antichrist, exceptionally well shot by Manuel Alberto Claro, mixing super slow mo with hectic handheld camerawork. The special effects are fantastic, not stylized at all and keeping with the somber tone of the film are never over the top.
The cast does a great job as well, with the whole film resting almost completely on Kirsten Dunst shoulders with ease, right behind her is Charlotte Gainsbourg who, like in Antichrist is dealing with grief but in a totally different way. Kiefer Sutherland as John is pretty damn great as well. Old veterans like John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling and Stellan and Alexander Skarsgard round out the cast.
Melancholia was surprisingly not depressing for me, it's a slow burn that holds its welcome by strong performances and beautiful imagery. Those expecting full penetration shots or vaginal mutilation need to look elsewhere.