For years now, all those angry Lars von Trier haters out there, and you know there are a lot of you out there, have been saying, or at least implying by all their critical caterwauling, that the audacious auteur would some day destroy the world. Well guess what? The melancholy Dane has done just that in his new, aptly titled work, Melancholia. Take that!
There is no doubt; LvT is certainly what most would call a divisive filmmaker. You either love the guy and his baroque, operatic style (which is highly evident in Melancholia) or you hate him for his arrogance and vulgar pretensions (which also is quite evident in Melancholia) - and to the nth degree in whichever direction you happen to choose. I happen to choose (if there is actually a conscious choice - perhaps, like being gay or straight, one is born a von Trier lover or hater) to be on the love side of that fence (from the director's eleven theatrically released features, only the quite disappointing Manderlay is held in low esteem) and my reasons for picking that particular side probably have quite the overlap with the reasons so many hold for hating the man, and his films, so greatly. Take that as well!
Meanwhile, Melancholia, a film about how an incredibly dysfunctional family copes with love, loss, depression and the literal end of the world, is certainly a force to be reckoned with - even amongst LvT's already demanding oeuvre. The film is split, much like his last film, Antichrist (the nadir of the aforementioned haters existence), into a stunningly shot, and quite cinematic opening and closing, replete with ominously beautiful classical music and utter despair and destruction, bookending an ultra-realistic centerpiece of hand-held cameras and improvised words and actions. Unlike that film though, which many called misogynistic and sadist (and in a way, the film is both things - so much so that a misogyny consultant was amongst the closing credits...and yes, it was a woman), Melancholia has no real controversial aspect to speak of. Yeah, the guy destroys all life as we know it - and in the first two minutes at that - but he doesn't have paramour Charlotte Gainsbourg doing anything with power tools this time. That's something, right?
Now von Trier's film is actually less sci-fi (the Earth-shattering prologue and finale are mere incidentals) and more a drama of relationships. Split between the miserablist younger sister, full of hate and despair (a stand-in for von Trier's own depression issues), played with a surprising amount of honesty by Kirsten Dunst (perhaps the actress's own nay-sayers will shut up now) and the older, more hopeful yet ultimately as fatalist sister, played by the always spectacular Ms. Gainsbourg, Melancholia is the story of how two disparate women deal with what is both figuratively and literally the end of the world. The final moments of the film, shared by these two daring thespians, are filled with some of the most emotionally charged sense of dread ever put on film - von Trier's or anyone else's.
Actually Melancholia is probably the director's best chance for mainstream accessibility (due more to name stars like Cannes Best Actress Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland, who gives an astonishingly brilliant performance as a rather cocksure jerk, than typical mainstream storytelling, but such a thing did not help Dogville at the box office - and that had Nichole Kidman AND Lauren fucking Bacall!). The film's accessibility will come to possible fruition when it is released to a somewhat unsuspecting US audience, but I am not a mindless dreamer - I know a box office draw is not about to happen (especially for a film that depicts the destruction of Earth as both existential metaphor and pretentious reality), but at the same time I do not foresee the rabid antagonistic rhetoric from LvT haters that Antichrist's Grand Guignol artifice had elicited upon its release. Again, that's something, right? Whatever the case, Melancholia is sure to go down as one of the greatest works of cinema of 2011. Take that!! [11/08/11]