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Melancholia - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
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Stanley Kubrick once said "A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings." Lars Von Trier's Melancholia seems to embrace this concept and try and re-invent our sense of depression with marriage, family and the Solar System.

In a picture that is an experience rather than an actual story, Von Trier's latest weird escapade focuses on two sisters whose already bitter relationship is thrown into further disarray when a mysterious planet called 'Melancholia' that has been hiding behind the sun for 'X' amount of years is heading towards Earth. However, there are two schools of thought as to whether it will actually collide or not. The film is divided into two parts: the first one revolves around a wedding reception of seemingly happy bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst), but the tension with her marriage-hating family and her domineering sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) begins to bubble to the surface. In the second part - aptly titled "Claire" – the titular planet lurks above the atmosphere with fear it will end all mankind. Sounds perfectly reasonable, right? Unless it's some sort of science-fiction film, which it's not. It seems here that Von Trier is attempting to create a hybrid between styles and sub-genres, which is something he has done before in his earlier films Dogville [2003] and Antichrist [2009]. In Melancholia he tackles family relationships and the ever-fluctuating experience of depression. Dunst's performance channels these themes with a mysteriously tension that works quite well. She won the Best Actress award at this year's Cannes Film Festival and she is well-deserving of it.

The main problem is that the hybrid that Von Trier is trying to create doesn't quite work. It teeters along a tightrope of melodrama and surrealist science-fiction, which might have worked if it wasn't for the extremely irritating shaky-cam style that Von Trier always seems fit to employ no matter what genre it is. That having been said, there is some stunningly beautiful imagery, especially in Part Two when the planet is approaching, but it is somewhat ruined by the fact there is not a single static shot in the whole 129 minutes, apart from the first eight. In an opening sequence that is strangely reminiscent of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968], a series of images that symbolise what's about to take place in the story are presented in stunning slow-motion and are absolutely gorgeous.

Complemented with an ominous orchestral score, Melancholia had the potential to be a wonderfully operatic piece of theatrical filmmaking, but instead is a sort of mess thanks to the camera operator who is evidently shaking with excitement at the thought of shooting a movie, even when the camera is rolling.

Melancholia is certainly not for everyone, but Von Trier fans will definitely have something to be excited about. Von Trier has created an intriguing atmosphere with an intriguing concept but unfortunately doesn't translate as well as it could of.

**1/2 out of *****


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Why? Kirsten Dunst's performance, and the imagery.
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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