Movie review: Melancholia

By Russell Baillie

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Melancholia starring Kirsten Dunst. Picture / Supplied for TimeOut
Melancholia starring Kirsten Dunst. Picture / Supplied for TimeOut

You want Christmas escapism? You've come to the right place. Nothing will make you forget the season of goodwill faster than a couple of hours spent disturbed, aggravated, exhausted and gripped by this, the latest from director Lars Von Trier whose clumsy press conference joke about being a Nazi got him drummed out of Cannes earlier this year.

The top prize at that festival was won by Terence Malick's The Tree of Life, the year's other confounding cinematic leap into the cosmic. It's been said that because they are both about life, the universe and everything, that The Tree of Life and Melancholia make a good pair. Except, well, Tree was an abstract bore.

Melancholia is lots of things - apocalyptic sci-fi, unhinged family saga, and an affecting evocation of the crippling effects of depression. And it does all that while offering some mind-bending combos of visuals and music, including the best use of Wagner in a soundtrack since Apocalypse Now.

So it's never boring. Maddening yes. But for Von Trier, whose past films - especially his previous, the self-mutilating gothic horror of Antichrist - have been defined by his wilful perversity, Melancholia is relatively restrained.

That said, it is a movie about a woman who thinks every day is the end of the world. And then, care of a colliding planet named Melancholia, one day, it is ...

Kirsten Dunst is mesmerising as Justine, who we first meet on her way to her wedding reception with new husband (True Blood's Skarsgard) at a country hotel owned by her sister Claire (Gainsbourg) and husband John (Sutherland).

A combo of Justine's mood swings and family squabbles turn the celebrations into a farce, which might be a considered a comedy of manners, but it doesn't appear anyone on Justine's side of the family has any.

Flash forward a few months and a near catatonic, and single, Justine has returned to Claire's care as a rogue planet bears down on the Earth.

But as the end becomes even more nigh, Justine's sadness becomes her stability as the previously solid Claire panics. Watching the two sisters alter their orbit around each other is what gives this Big Idea movie its human touch. Setting that two-handed drama against a frighteningly beautiful vision of the apocalypse makes this a film as unnerving as it is breathtaking.

Movie: Melancholia
Stars: 5/5
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard Director: Lars Von Trier
Rating: M (Offensive Language and Nudity)
Running time: 136 mins
Verdict: Danish maverick's ode to depression a confounding cosmic wonder

- NZ Herald

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