How the world ends in two parts
Melancholia relies on von Trier’s strengths: epic (in length and plot) filmmaking, stellar acting and scripts that belie a fundamental cynicism about human nature. The film is a highly entertaining look at a dysfunctional family, a narrative that is subsequently, and masterfully, navigated into the vortex of an apocalypse.
In the first of two parts, the clinically depressed bride Justine (Dunst) just can’t see why she should be happy on the day of her wedding, while her family and friends either bully her or egg her on.
While we watch her self-destruct, Udo Kier gives a hysterical performance as a disparaged wedding planner, and Justine’s seemingly random excretion on the golf course is both funny and pointed.
Despite its dark undertones, Melancholia is enjoyable as a well-crafted character study until part two flips the mood radically, turning our attention to Justine’s sister Claire (Gainsbourg), Claire’s family and her increasing anxiety over a planet that threatens to collide with earth.
By this point von Trier uses cinematic tools that seem to be much more gentle than his usual shock-tactics but nevertheless turn out to be so effective that it becomes hard to remember to breathe as the tension rises to almost unbearable levels. Music, special effects, empty settings and dramatic acting contribute to a film that’s as satisfying as it is terrifying.
Melancholia | Directed by Lars von Trier (Denmark et al. 2011) with Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård. Starts October 6