MELANCHOLIA (NYFF 2011)
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 traveling 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 better 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 that Justine 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?
Rated R. 135 mins.
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