Divided into two parts (“Justine” and “Claire”), the film initially focuses on bride Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst in her best performance ever, which deservedly won her the Best Actress award in Cannes last May. It’s astonishing how she can be gorgeous and glowing for a while early on, then get ugly and dark, as if something had just snapped inside of her… Afterwards, she sometimes smiles and shines a little again, but you can tell that she’s faking it, that her heart just isn’t into it, even though her dress is amazing, the groom is amazing (Alexander Skarsgård), the venue is amazing… What’s her problem? Could be depression (“I’m trudging through this grey, woolly yarn”), but it could also be caused by the impending doom facing Earth if it’s hit by “fly-by” planet Melancholia…
Which will become the main concern of Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Justine’s sister, who becomes increasingly filled with cosmic dread, terrified that she is that she, her husband (Kiefer Sutherland) and especially her young son (Cameron Spurr) could be obliterated in a matter of days.
Part drama, part science-fiction, “Melancholia” is shot by Lars von Trier with his signature post-Dogme unstable camera style, which mirrors how Justine and eventually Claire feel, and the cinematography is also often stunning, with a painterly use of light and colour bringing to life more tableaux throughout the film. Von Trier’s vision is cynical and nihilistic (“The Earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it. Nobody will miss it.”), but also laced with black humor and some genuine emotion, and it’s the kind of picture that only grows in your mind as time passes. Even though the ending is jaw-droppingly awesome, I came out of the theatre feeling slightly disappointed… Then again, as I write this the next day, I’m still haunted by it and looking forward to seeing it again already – always a good sign, obviously.
Dunst and Gainsbourg dominate it of course, but the entire ensemble cast is excellent as well, including Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt as the girls’ divorced parents (yes, the accents all over the place in that family, going from English to American to French, but it doesn’t really matter), plus Stellan Skarsgård, Brady Corbet and my personal favorite, Udo Kier as the wedding planner!
Lots of greatness all around but, again, maybe not the immediate impact of, say, instant classics like “Dogville” or “Dancer in the Dark.” Even then, it easily ranks as one of the year’s best films.