Monday, December 12, 2011

Agust shares some thoughts on Melancholia

Melancholia begins with images of great beauty. Images of apocalypse, of death, of the end. There is a poetry of despair in the play of image and music (Wagner's Tristan und Isold). But there is also play in this despair, the knowing wink of one whose lifetime of lamentation has opened up horizons of humor, shades of grey in the black.
The humor is strange and rather darling, surprisingly successful, especially when the great Udo Kier is on the screen ("She ruined my wedding I will not look at her!"). Kirsten Dunst is a great beauty and a great actress, channeling a great deal of sorrow and quiet misery. The film's greatest strengths are in portraying the cold, clinical nature of depression, the complete loss of hope and the horror in having to face people who pretend they are happy and demand the same pretension of you.

There are many missteps in the film, silly mistakes that an artist of Trier's caliber should have addressed at this point. The script is sloppy, the characters cardboards, the dialogue inane. Yet even in these mistakes there is an endearing quality, a poetic vision. Trier's connection with his actresses remains on par with Almodovar.

The film is split into two parts, named after the two main characters, Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The beauty of the film lies in how Justine, the sister who has abandoned all hope, is able to face death with dignity whilst her sister Claire succumbs to the horror of life as death approaches. This is probably the first and only Von Trier film with a happy ending. The main problem with the film lies in the fact that one inevitably gets the feeling that Von Trier's own suffering is not as dignified as Justine's. His films have always been tinged - if not submerged in - hysteria, an unbecoming condition if there ever was one. As the great poet Leonard Cohen said, our duty in this life is to lament and this sacred act must be performed with the utmost dignity. Yet Melancholia exhibits Von Trier's definite improvement, if not spiritual at least aesthetic, a strong piece that is difficult to watch (as are all of his films) but which rewards willing seekers. He seems to be moving past hysteria to at least quiet acceptance, a way in which his art can help him, and perhaps even us, accept the ultimate defeat that awaits us all. 

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