Cannes Review: Melancholia

Danish provocateur Lars von Trier's 2009 Cannes film, Antichrist, mixed explicit sex and graphic violence as it depicted the dark and brutal collapse of a marriage. The director claimed the film reflected his disturbed mental and emotional state.

Apparently, he was in a happier place when he made this year's Cannes competition entry, Melancholia. But while the film is far less shocking, it is certainly no comedy. This time it is not just a marriage that comes to an end, but the entire planet – which von Trier destroys twice.

And he doesn't make us wait for the end of the world, instead getting down to business immediately with an operatic prologue of painterly, slow-motion images cut to the overture of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, as the eponymous planet collides with Earth.

Partly these are visions of the coming apocalypse, partly they're the visions of Justine (Kirsten Dunst), who appears to be a happy newlywed. But behind her happy demeanour is a woman in crisis. By the end of the first of the film's two chapters, she has lost her job and her husband, and looks to be losing her mind as well.

In the second half, her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), tries to care for her, but as the end of the world gets ever closer, she begins to fall apart, while Justine grows stronger – her depression making her more prepared for death.

Dunst is convincing; the explosive climax delivers an emotional kick, and the visuals are ravishingly beautiful and audacious. That said, Von Trier struggles to justify the 130-minute running time.

Originally published in The Scotsman, 21/05/11

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