The following review was submitted by guest contributor Miles Perhower.
I arrive at the MAC in Birmingham, inebriated, just in time to buy tickets for the 5pm showing of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Finding my way into the cinema, I locate my friends, sit down and endure the condescending adverts and shockingly poor trailers. Having spent the last fortnight moving house, everything felt rushed, up-in-the-air and downright apocalyptic. With the aid of brandy, hot baths and contraband, the new house was beginning to feel like home; a new exciting place to live, the second city in clear view from the garden patio. All this enhanced at night by the bright red lights of the BT tower, the moon and stars overhead. It was an appropriate prelude to the film.
The picture starts and I’m in the zone. I had seen Von Trier’s previous offering Anti-Christ a couple of years back, which was a beautifully shocking arthouse thrill ride. From the off, Melancholia feels like an even more ambitious companion piece to Anti-Christ, but is less visceral in nature. The grandiose, crystal clear, ultra slow-motion images set to intensely emotional music hit me in all the right places. The perverse intimacy during the black and white opening of Anti-Christ is matched here by the bold, radiating visions of surreal landscapes, sorrowful expressions and literally cataclysmic set pieces. If Anti-Christ was a disturbing nod to Andrei Tarkovsky, then Melancholia proves to be Von Trier taking on Kubrick.
So what’s the film about? It’s a question many have been asking, although it might be wise to go in reasonably fresh. Here’s the trailer:
The film conforms to the familiar Von Trier format from the start: intimate hand-held shots of the lead actress (Kirsten Dunst) entering an intense situation, pieced together with seemingly random cuts, peculiar play-like dialogue, an ensemble cast and unexpected events. Purposefully or not, the film is packed with simple yet clever metaphoric images, exploring notions of collision, depression, melancholy (obviously), nihilism and apocalypse.
An early scene involving the bridal limousine struggling to navigate up the winding path to the mansion is a lightly humorous precursor of bigger collisions to come. The ridiculously awkward journey seems so superficial and pointless. Von Trier creates this upper-class wedding scenario which serves merely as a distraction, both within the reality of the film and for the cinema audience.
There’s plenty of cold emotional absurdity, cynicism and bitterness in Melancholia, however this is also an honest attempt at confronting some painful home truths. I hope Von Trier decides to carry on living, let alone continue to make distinctive films. It has to be said that Dunst’s cleavage looks amazing throughout the wedding party section, but once her depression kicks in the pseudo-erotic elements become jaded; her naked figure propped up next to the bath by the equally attractive Charlotte Gainsbourg does nothing but repulse. There is only one brief relapse into mild eroticism when Kirsten bares all for no apparent reason near the end of the film, lying nude, surrounded by nature and staring up at the night sky. Yes, Von Trier understands that you have to get your kicks from somewhere, even if you’re convinced that the world is going to end.
Back home, sitting outside on my new patio, almost full moon above, stars glittering. It’s getting cold. I close my eyes and I swear I can feel the world turning. Now I have seen how certain things could be, now I can go to bed and dream.