30 Jan

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 136 minutes



Lars von Trier is anything but a conventional film maker and Melancholia is another of his unique films. It was praised heavily at Cannes, as is more often than not the case with his work, but has been largely ignored by the more popular award ceremonies since then.

The film centres on sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and starts with the wedding of Justine as organized by Claire (at Claire and her husband’s impressive country mansion). As it happens Justine requires a lot of organization as it is clear from early on that she is a troubled individual. Justine is an erratic character, with a dysfunctional wider family beyond solid Claire, and the whole wedding lurches from one miss-step to the next.

Alongside the intimate plotline that is Justine’s apparent bipolar disorder, the other one is pure science fiction as the planet Melancholia emerges from behind the sun and on to a collision course with Earth. That plotline is developed more in the second half of the film where more time is also devoted to the other sister, Claire, who has a loving family in place (with husband Kiefer Sutherland and son Cameron Spurr). For her the threat of the rogue planet’s approach is agonizing whilst for Justine it comes as a potential release. As such the sisters almost switch personalities towards the end of the film.

Is it pretentious? – For what has been labelled an existential sci-fi movie I don’t think that it is. It’s different, it’s interesting and it kept me hooked for the relatively long runtime. However, it is not as moving as it would be if the central characters were less detached and more sympathetic. The visuals are stunning – there are some beautiful early slow-motion pieces set to Wagner – and the acting is of very high quality, especially from both Dunst and Gainsbourg.

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