directed by Lars von Trier
starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård
I know we’ve all been waiting for a decent apocalyptic chick flick sci-fi thriller from the Dogme 95 Collective, and here it is. On the superficial level, think Sudden Impact or When Worlds Collide; deeper down, imagine Ingmar Bergman exploring the winter-numbed interrelation between two grating sisters in The Silence. It’s Justine’s (Kirsten Dunst) wedding day, and she’s a bit late. Her mega limo from hell can’t get up the steep, winding driveway to her father-in-law’s home/castle/boutique hotel complete with stables, 18 holes of golf, and a discreet manservant. Her fiancé Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) is madly in love with her, but she might be psychotic — she ditches the wedding to take a bath, bonks an underling in the sand trap, and tells her boss to… well, this IS Scandinavian, so it’s actually a rather mild invective. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is pissed off, but not as bad as her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) who’s paying for the whole shebang. But John has other things on his mind. The mysterious planet Melancholia will pass by the Earth, and Claire isn’t technical enough to know what this means. It doesn’t, and this close miss will do more than just frighten the horses.
Technically this isn’t a true Dogme 95 film — it uses lights and special effects, but it does keep that underexposed “make a daylight shot look like night” look. The effects are not overwhelming but they are nicely done — weird lights and super slow-mo and gentle CGI give this film an arty, wholesome look. There are plenty of internal references to Breughel paintings as well as the Pre-Raphaelites, and Claire does NOT like early 20th century Futurists, like Kandinsky. The interiors are gorgeous, the dynamic between the sisters and those around them are believable, if overly melodramatic, and there are some lingering shots of Dunst bathing in the light of this dark planet. That and von Trier’s constant focus on her cleavage almost makes up for the other 130 minutes I sat in the dark. It zips along like a glacier.
So is Justine’s odd behavior driven by the gravitational changes? It seems to upset the horses — there’s this one little bridge that one horse won’t cross and the golf cart won’t either. I’ve not doped out the symbolism, but knowing Mr. von Trier’s works, it’s in there somewhere. There are some technical issues with the planet — it passes by the Earth and sucks up a bunch of atmosphere, but the scene looking out to sea is calm and serene; I’d expect a huge tidal event at least. The other oddity is no one else at the wedding seems the least worried about this new planet — a smallish rocket flew past us last week, and that brought out the doomsters and the 6 o’clock news astronomers for a week. Still, I did enjoy Melancholia. Justine’s carefully built irrationality and the poorly explained animosity between the women made a compelling if leisurely story. And thank you, Mr. von T, for using actual professional lighting — I like seeing the scenes you’ve so carefully set up.