NYFF 2011 in Perspective
The New York Film Festival 2011
By Cole Smithey
Easily the best New York Film Festival I’ve experienced in the 15 consecutive years I’ve attended it, 2011 was truly an exceptional year. Of the 17 films I saw there was only one disappointment (Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants”) and one unforgivable dog (“Martha Marcy May Marlene” – I compulsively make fun of the title every time I say it). Martin Scorsese personally introduced a surprise screening of his latest film “Hugo” to a packed house.
Documentary filmmaking enjoyed strong entries with Chris Hall’s and Mike Kerry’s “The Ballad of Mott the Hoople” (which sadly will go to DVD), Joe Berlinger’s and Bruce Sinofsky’s “Paradise Lost 3,” and Alex Stapleton’s Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.” Martin Scorsese’s named also showed up on the MTV-aired doc “George Harrison: Living in the Material World.”
While overrated festivals like Toronto pretend to compete with Cannes, and unfocused festivals like Tribeca continue to feel around for an identity, the New York Film Festival has proven once again that it knows how to treat filmmakers, celebrities, and its participating journalists. Kudos to Richard Peña, John Wildman, Courtney Ott, and the rest of the staff at Lincoln Center for making 2011 a festival to remember.
Aki Kaurismaki's humanist themed comedy of manners and intentions is a whimsical allegory about the desperate plight of immigrants and the communal actions needed to address the issue. There's an air of magical realism in the film's tone that places shoeshine man Marcel (Andre Wilms) in the unique position of harboring a young illegal immigrant named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) from West Africa in Marcel’s French hometown of La Havre.
Marcel leads a frugal existence with his loving wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) in a small house on a little back street of the sleepy seaside town. The couple's minimalist lifestyle still allows for simple pleasures. With his wife's approval Marcel slips out to his favorite bar for an aperitif while Arletty prepares their dinner. Arletty doesn't want her husband know she's dying from cancer. So it comes as a shock when she has to be rushed to the hospital for an extended stay. When a dock guard hears the cry of a baby coming from a sealed shipping container, local officials are called in to open the giant London-bound metal box. Inside are a group of immigrants from which Idrissa escapes before running into the sympathetic Marcel who agrees to help the boy get to London to reunite with his mother.
Filmed with a deliberately simplistic regard, Kaurismaki embraces a regional sense of identity that allows supporting characters to flourish. Police Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) gets wind of Marcel’s complicity in hiding the boy, and makes his position clear to Marcel. Enjoyable scenes between Darroussin and Wilms play out with a suspenseful sense of deadpan humor. As with all of the Finnish auteur’s films, there’s a bitter sweetness at play. When Kaurismaki adds the story’s final grace note it comes as rich reward. Few filmmakers have such delicate command of the poetic potential of cinema.
The Kid With a Bike
The Dardenne brothers tweak slightly their polished neorealist formula of personalized socially consciousness cinema related to their home country of Belgium, and their hometown of Seraing in specific. Composed music plays a role. The Dardennes continue the focus of their oeuvre on the plight of the country's youth. The result is a somewhat less than convincing story about a troubled 11-year-old boy named Cyril (Thomas Doret).
Having been recently abandoned by his single-parent father Guy (Jérémie Renier), Cyril searches desperately for his dad, and for his bicycle which has also gone missing. The manic boy escapes from the boys' home where he has been placed to return to the now empty apartment he once occupied with his father. Chased by his keepers back into the home Cyril throws himself at a visiting woman who sits in a lobby. Hairdresser Samantha (Cecile de France) helps reunite Cyril with his bike and agrees to look after the violence-prone boy on weekends. Samantha is at a loss to understand Cyril's self-destructive impulses that land him in a string of violent altercations. Still, Cyril's good fortune expands when Samantha agrees to keep him with her full time. Cyril’s guardian angel helps him track down his dead-beat dad at the restaurant where he works. Guy gradually makes clear that he wants nothing to do with his needy son. The filmmakers explore too shallowly Guy's reasoning for essentially throwing his son away. This, coupled with a lack of perspective on Samantha's backstory, weighs heavy on the film as a narrative contrivance that is nonetheless buffered by Thomas Doret’s exceptional performance.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
"Work-shopped in a Sundance writing and directing lab" proves to be the kiss of death for an overwrought and underdeveloped psychological thriller that refuses to either poop or get off the pot. Newbie writer/director Sean Durkin wears his obsession with Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke on his snot-covered sleeve. Evidently they don't teach that flashbacks are a bad idea at NYU film school—where Durkin attended--or at Sundance since exactly half of Durkin's story is told using the most common crutch in narrative existence.
Durkin has an ace up his sleeve in newcomer Elizabeth Olsen, whose beguiling nubility and haunting mood shifts the filmmaker milks for all they’re worth. Olsen plays the title character whose name Martha gets transmogrified to Marcy Mae by a creepy cult leader named Patrick (John Hawkes) who feeds on the flesh of his mostly female clan on a remote farm commune in the Catskills. Martha's "Marlene" identity is the least explained, and is left dangling along with every other plot thread the filmmakers bother to create.
Martha runs away from the commune at the beginning of the story. She calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who she hasn't been in touch with for two years, to come pick her up. Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) take Martha into their spacious riverside home in Connecticut. Martha displays odd behaviors such as skinny dipping in broad daylight and crawling in bed with Ted and Lucy while they're having sex. She doesn’t believe in such capitalist traps as pursuing a career. She holds onto firm but unstated beliefs about “the right way to live.”
Flashbacks reveal Martha's rape at the hands of Patrick, and her indoctrination as a "leader and teacher" at the commune. The filmmaker constantly jockeys back and forth between Martha's increasingly problematic situation with Lucy and Ted, and her not so distant past that informs her subconscious and conscious mind. Martha is an unreliable protagonist the audience is tempted to side with in spite of her volatile personality. "Martha Marcy May Marlene" comes across as an extreme right-wing fantasy about the leftist mind. If we take Martha, as the filmmakers seem to intend, to represent the kind of person engaged in the global protests against savage corporate greed then we are forced to admit that they are emotionally disturbed sociopathic human beings. The big problem with the movie is the filmmakers forgot to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
In spite of its all-too-obvious machinations “The Kid with a Bike” touches on social ills in a direct fashion without preaching. When Cyril falls in with a neighborhood thug to perform a violent crime with no reason other than for the approval of an older male figure, we see clearly what the filmmakers are getting at. A kid with a bike is nothing without both a mother and a father figure. The Artist Inspired proof that a black-and-white silent film with a 4:3 aspect ratio can be more entertaining than a 3D anything, "The Artist" conjures a bygone age of Hollywood that reminds us why we love cinema. Director Michel Hazanavicius's wonderful movie made a splash at Cannes before becoming the critical darling of the 2011 New York Film Festival.
Jean Dujardin ("OSS 117 - Lost in Rio") combines Errol Flynn and Fred Astaire in his role as silent film superstar George Valentin. The story finds matinee idol Valentin enjoying a glamorous silent film career in Los Angeles near the end of the Roaring Twenties. Flawlessly tailored and groomed, here is a man who can do no wrong. His marriage to a grumpy wife (Penelope Ann Miller) isn't all it's cracked up to be but George has his constant companion, a Jack Russell terrier, to keep his sprits up. Valentin goes along for the ride when Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), an ambitions young starlet, creates a welcome bit of impromptu romantic zing during a public photo op. The kiss she plants on George’s cheek makes front page news. With her infectious smile and adorable dance moves Peppy's silent film career catches fire in the company of the suave and urbane Valentin. The advent of the Talkies doesn't bode well for Valentin, who refuses to participate for a reason that only becomes clear late in the story. Peppy is more adaptable. Cast aside by his producer (John Goodman), Valentin dips into his personal savings to produce, direct, and act in silent movie that necessarily flops on the same day as the release of Peppy's breakout sound role. Our impeccable hero hits the skids.
Apart from a precise use of appropriate music, Michel Hazanavicius teases the audience with sound as a delightful narrative ingredient. Will we ever hear Valentin speak? It is a silent movie after all.
Between brilliantly executed performances, dance numbers, and an exquisitely told romantic story about loss and redemption, is a flawlessly crafted film that shimmers. Visually, it’s astoundingly gorgeous. Equal parts drama, romance, spectacle, and comedy, "The Artist" is an instant classic. There is a line of thinking that states a film has to linger around for a decade before it can have a "classic" status bestowed upon it. To that notion I say, watch "The Artist."
Like his German compatriot Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders has a knack for the documentary form. Wenders's 1999 Buena Vista Social Club remains one of the best music documentaries ever made. Unlike Herzog however, Wenders may want to consider sticking exclusively to this type of storytelling in light of his recent failing efforts with narrative film. His last film "Palermo Shooting" (2008) is a film better left forgotten.
In discovering the human and artistic impact of his friend, the famed late choreographer Pina Bausch, Wenders takes a unique approach that involves set piece reenactments of Bausch dance routines performed by her fiercely devoted company of dancers, the Tanztheater Wuppertal. Bausch started the company in 1973. Wenders puts state-of-the-art 3D technology to ideal usage in capturing the dynamic vibrancy of transformative dance numbers that reveal the personalities of the individual dancers, as well as the bold vision of their artistic muse. Interspersed between the dances are brief direct-to-camera reminisces from individual dancers about Pina that tell the story of an artistic force of nature who lived and breathed nothing but dance.
Wenders had been in discussions with Bausch for many years about making such a film. Sadly, the visionary choreographer passed away in 2009 just as "Pina" was entering pre-production. Audiences will find much inspiration in the film's many passionate solo, pas de deux, and group dances performed in public spaces and in various theatrical settings. Natural elements such as dirt and water take on mystical qualities in dynamic dance performances that truly take your breath away. There are many aural, visual, and visceral surprises in this sublime film. If you aren’t a fan of dance, you will be after seeing Pina’s magnificent dances performed by dancers who worked with her for decades. "Pina" was one of the highlights of the 2011 New York Film Festival.
Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
One of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema gets his due in a comprehensive love-letter documentary that celebrates Roger Corman's illustrious film career from top to bottom and inside-out. The inspirations, ideologies, and methodologies of Corman’s "one-man-band" of independent filmmaking come through in exhaustive clips from his more than 200 films, and from a plethora of interview segments. Aside from outspoken interview sequences with Corman himself, documentarian Alex Stapleton interviews everyone from the filmmaker's wife and business partner Julie Corman to Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, John Sayles, Peter Fonda, William Shatner, and Pam Grier. The effect is a raucous celebration of Roger Corman's polite demeanor, colorful films, and his stripped-down approach to movie-making that gave so many directors and actors their start.
"Monster From the Ocean Floor," "Apache Woman," The Little Shop of Horrors," "Bucket of Blood," "The Fast and the Furious," "Death Race 2000," "The Intruder," and his psychedelic exploration of LSD "The Trip" are just a handful of Corman's many films examined with more insights than seem possible for such a fast-paced documentary. It would be a daunting task for any filmmaker to even attempt a documentary about such a prolific and influential figure as Roger Corman, but Alex Stapleton lovingly crafts a 95 minute filmic encyclopedia that touches all of the bases. "Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel" fills an essential chapter of cinema history. It is destined to become an integral addition to the curriculum of more than a few college film courses.
Death and dying play a big part in Cinema's current zeitgeist. From apocalyptic films like "Melancholia" to cancer-themed comedies like "50/50" there is a pressing dialogue of facing up to the reality of certain death with some amount of courage and dignity. So it is that Alexander Payne struggles to make funny the pending death of a comatose adulterous wife whose husband Matt (George Clooney) must facilitate a socially responsible passage for the mother of his two daughters. Perhaps the best thing "The Descendants" has to offer is its depiction of Hawaii as a place like any other that only appears as a tropical paradise on the surface. Payne has mastered a certain style of deadpan humor exemplified in a scene where Clooney's cuckold runs down a suburban street in sandals. He is anxious to question his friends about their knowledge of the man his wife was cheating on him with before she was critically injured in a waterskiing accident. There’s a slapstick air to Clooney’s gawky physicality and the sound of flip-flops hitting asphalt. Still, it’s a scene you feel like you’ve seen a hundred times before. There’s numbness to the humor. Alexander Payne is certainly a competent director. He knows just where to put the camera. But as a writer he remains stuck in a navel-gazing kind of rut. “About Schmidt” (2002) fell prey to Payne’s sluggish sense of ponderous humor. “Sideways” was his best film because he stepped outside the need to gaze upon ugliness. In “The Descendants,” the writer/director takes a brighter disposition in a literal sense. Hawaii’s bright sunlight and natural beauty work some magic. But it’s not enough to resuscitate a script that is as depleted as the comatose character toward which the narrative steers.
My Week With Marilyn
Michelle Williams delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Marilyn Monroe in director Simon Curtis's thoughtful adaptation of the legendary actress' diaries by Colin Clark. At 23 Clark served as 3rd assistant director to Laurence Olivier for his 1956 romantic comedy "The Prince and the Showgirl." Here Eddie Redmayne movingly portrays a star-struck young Brit who momentarily wins the heart of the most sensual creature on the planet while working as Marilyn’s hand-picked liaison to the British theatrical world—a culture upon which she is an obvious encroachment. Michelle Williams effortlessly evokes the tragic icon's layers of insecurity and hopeless romanticism, which slip into fits of manic depression. Williams's mesmerizing set-piece performance of songs, such as a climatic rendition of "That Old Black Magic" transports the film into the erotic euphoria that Monroe stirred in the hearts and libidos of men. Equally effective is a charming dance number Williams reenacts from the film within the film. Williams's magical transformation into Marilyn Monroe is uncanny; you never question it for a moment. Although the movie has its weak spots--Julia Ormond turns in a one-note portrayal of Vivian Leigh and Zoe Wanamaker veers toward caricature as Paula Strasberg--Michelle Williams delivers a deft multidimensional character study built on truthfulness and soul. “My Week With Marilyn” isn’t just a gem; it’s a diamond.
The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodóvar proves himself an apt technician at sustaining suspense in the thriller genre. Antonio Banderas returns to work with Almodóvar for the first time in over 20-years, since his memorable performance "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!." The years have been kind to Banderas who brings his A-game to a deliciously diabolical role. Plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is a mad scientist with plenty of method to his particular madness of creating an indestructible skin. His wife died in a car fire. His daughter committed suicide. He harbors vengeance. But why? The Toledo-based doctor conducts experiments in the privacy of his luxurious mansion laboratory. Not even Dr. Frankenstein had it so good. His mother (Marisa Paredes) serves as his dutiful maid. Almodovar's meticulous attention to detail keeps you hypnotized. Every visual component is exact in color, placement, and scale. Naturally, the evil doctor is using a human being to live inside the hybrid-pig-DNA membrane he has perfected. His comely patient Vera (Elena Anaya) is confined to a large room. She wears a skin-tight body suit and practices yoga for hours on end. Dr. Ledgard secretly observes Vera through a large two-way mirror. Elena Anaya is an exquisite object of fetishistic delight for Almodovar to pour his patient camera over.
Based on Thierry Jonquet's novel "Mygale" "The Skin I Live In" is a haunting film that tips its hat to Alfred Hitchcock. There's a goodly dose of Georges Franju's 1960 French horror classic "Eyes Without a Face." Elliptical time shifts tell the story in a disjointed fashion that makes you want to see the film twice even as you're watching it. There's mystery here to savor as you would any great piece of cinematic art. Pedro Almodóvar has created a masterpiece. Plan on seeing it twice.
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
Nuri Bilge Ceylon continues his minimalist yet universal exploration of society with a fascinating police procedural that values story over plot and character over prejudice. The mastermind behind such instant classics as "Climates" and "Three Monkeys" uses every detail of atmosphere and human communication to tell a quietly complex story about a murder and the imperfect methods of the men assigned to solve the crime.
At night Doctor Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner) accompanies a group of police officers and a soldier as they drive around the dark outskirts of the Anatolian steppe. They have with them two incarcerated suspects they hope will lead them to the grave of a missing man. Police Commissar Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan) lets his temper flare at his prisoner who leads the three-vehicle caravan on a wild goose chase in search of a "round tree" by one of the road's many fountains that provide water for travelers in the arid region. Prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel) reigns in Naci when the Commissar turns violent against his prisoner. The cops joke about food and engage in a bland kind of non-specific repartee that diffuses tension even as it subtlety discloses fragments of personal information. They stop for food at the home of man whose beautiful daughter momentarily entrances them.
"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" is a film about how detectives communicate. It’s also about how entrused public servants wrangle with overpowering emotions and personal secrets. Anger and sadness are traits to be submersed under rote routines of professional conduct. Their personal sense of justice can be confused and arbitrary. And yet, these men are doing a job that must be done. Nuri Bilge Ceylon is a lover of humanity. His great concern for every one of his characters that goes beyond their innocence or guilt. He recognizes the balance of both qualities in their actions. As a sociological study, the film is edifying on many levels. As a drama it is at turns inscrutable, revealing, and moving. The cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylon is a transformative one. It is unique and honest. Most significantly, it is rare.
Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play Penelope and Michael Longstreet, a bourgeoisie married couple whose son lost a couple of teeth to a schoolyard bully who hit him in the mouth with stick. Rather than take America's kneejerk legal route, the mostly well-intentioned couple attempt to resolve matters via an afternoon discussion with the parents of the offending bully. Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz play the bully’s parents Nancy and Alan Cowan. Alan is a corporate attorney with a mind like a steel-trap and a constantly ringing cell phone that takes precedence to all other concerns. Nance is an investment broker with a queasy stomach. The Cowans and the Longstreets are equally matched in the area of self-righteousness, but not so much in the realm of what used to be called political correctness. Hiding behind a veneer of politeness, each character digs deeper into their personal bag of tricks to articulate a holier-than-thou brand of intellectual independence. Tempers flare, insults are tossed, vomit flies, and a bottle of scotch is consumed on the way to seeing a myriad of hypocrisy that lurks inside high-minded examples cultured, educated, and civilized society. The laughs come hard and fast.
There's considerable gratification in watching this quartet of great film actors working in Polanski’s deliciously theatrical setting. The film was shot in real time. The director himself makes a cameo appearance as a curious neighbor. Brief, explosively funny, and sardonic as hell “Carnage” is what you might get if you condensed three of Woody Allen’s early films into a 75 minute one-act. This movie is a kick. The Woman WIth Red Hair Japan's Pink Film genre lasted from the early '60 through the mid-'80s. Although Western audiences are most familiar Nagisa Ōshima's 1976 film “In the Realm of the Senses” as the genre’s most representative film, Japan’s Pink Film industry provided several generations of filmmakers with a lucrative outlet for their creativity. One of the country's oldest production studios “Nikkatsu” turned exclusively to making what it termed Roman Porno in the early '70s to compete for audiences distracted by television. Each Roman Porno film had to have four nude or sex scenes per hour. Nikkatsu served as an ideal training ground for Tatsumi Kumashiro, who directed his first film "Front Row Life" in 1968 and went on to be one of the genre's most prolific directors.
The Woman with Red Hair
Kumashiro's 21st film, "The Woman with Red Hair" is a study in social commentary disguised as porn. Construction worker Kozo and his pal have outdoor sex with the boss’s daughter before picking up a red-haired woman eating noodles at a truck stop in the pouring rain. Kozo takes the girl (Junko Miyashita) back to his squalid apartment where the lovers slip into a marathon of love-making interrupted by economic and social pressures that surround them. Character-discovery occurs during ravenous sex acts that extend to kinky expressions of fantasy and revealing post-coital conversations. The woman is on the run from an abusive boyfriend. She has a son she left behind. She might be a recovered heroin addict. One thing is certain; the woman with red hair is insatiable.
In keeping with strict codes of Japanese law that forbade the showing of genitalia or pubic hair, Tatsumi Kumashiro composes the sequences of unbridled love-making with clever angles and purposefully placed foreground objects. There’s a nervousness and honesty in the way the lower class couple express themselves. Anger and violence tempers their efforts at finding fresh paths toward a fleeting pleasure that must be refreshed immediately lest it vanish forever. Incredibly lusty and inflected with a cinéma vérité style “The Woman with Red Hair” aspires to a degree of social realism that features the surroundings of its characters as an influence that causes them to live in a state of constant fear. It compares favorably with Michelangelo Antonioni's 1964 film “Red Desert.” The emotionally exposed characters battle against oppression by an industrial world with a confused humanity hungry for release.
A Dangerous Method
Christopher Hampton's stage play "The Talking Cure" provides the basis for David Cronenberg to dive into the largely overlooked story of Sabina Spielrein and her influence on the fathers of modern psychoanalysis--Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Sabina (played with astonishing authority by Keira Knightley) is a Russian Jewish patient brought to Jung's Burgholzli Clinic in Zurich in 1904. Her "hysteria" impedes her speech as she contorts her face, neck, and head in violent spasms. Outwardly, she appears quite insane. Michael Fassbender's Jung is able to calmly look beyond Sabina's off-putting physical demeanor in the interest of curing her. Jung is intent on using Sabina as a premier test patient for Freud's conversational therapy which he mistakenly calls "psychanalysis."
The film glides effortlessly across years as Jung meets Freud (Viggo Mortensen) to discuss psychoanalysis. Cronenberg masterfully controls the soundscape. Music is never allowed to intrude on a scene. Ugliness becomes beautiful; beauty becomes divine. Jung and Freud share a special bond of intellectual endeavor that comes through in their candid conversations about dreams. Jung shares his nighttime reveries for Freud to openly dissect. Privately, Jung questions Freud’s insistence that sex is the crucial element to all mental dysfunction even if his own experience with rehabilitating Justine points to just such a conclusion. Jung assists the perceptive and unguarded Sabina in her pursuit to become a psychoanalyst. He also seeks out a rationalization to ignore his wife and children long enough to enter into an adulterous BDSM affair with the heretofore virginal Sabina.
“A Dangerous Method” is a lush character study and history lesson that tenaciously explores the personal conflicts of ego and id between Jung and Freud. The film also pays generous homage to the woman whose outré sexual desires enabled her to turn Freud’s theories around. Freud entrusted her with several of his patients for her to treat. As an actors’ showcase the film is stunning. Vincent Cassel gives a memorable portrayal as the nihilistic psychiatrist Otto Gross, who encourages Jung to take sexual advantage of his patient. David Cronenberg has matured into a director of immeasurable confidence and gracefulness. He maintains his trademark fearlessness toward sexual obsessions and their potentially cataclysmic effects. Like Otto Gross he is incapable of “passing by an oasis without stopping to drink.”
Melancholia 2011 is the year of apocalypse in cinema. "The Tree of Life," "Take Shelter" and "Melancholia" each offer differing visions of Earth's waning days. Lars von Trier evinces consolation for the end of planet Earth and all its evil inhabitants in the form of a colossal planet named Melancholia, which is travelling on an elliptical collision course. Von Trier opens the film with one of the most haunting and lushly composed sequences ever captured on film. Kirsten Dunst's Justine placidly observes in hyper slow motion as electricity flows between an overcast sky and her fingertips. Black birds fall around her like harbingers of a funeral procession. Dunst’s delicate features are filled with stern ambivalence. As she reveals through her actions during the night of her wedding party, Justine’s atheism has prepared her bettern than believers to live out the final hours of human existence with a composure calculated to allow for whatever choices she might make. Telling off her demanding boss, and cheating on her doting husband (Alexander Skarsgård) of just a few hours, are obligatory actions. Justine is an anti-heroine without a trace of superficiality. She's a lying, cheating hypocrite just like everyone else. The difference is she admits it to herself. If Justine sounds like an alter-ego of the filmmaker who shook the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, getting himself thrown out of the festival for his incendiary comments during a press conference; she most certainly is.
Had the jury at Cannes chosen von Trier's superior "Melancholia" over Terrence Malick's cluster-bomb "The Tree of Life" in spite of von Trier's "persona non grata" status, justice would have been served. As with all of von Trier’s films, “Melancholia” will divide audiences. Atheist audiences can take special pleasure in von Trier’s exquisitely uncompromising vision. After all, what’s a beginning without an end?