Melancholia ★★★★½

A beautiful and poetic depiction of depression thru the lense of an apocalyptic event.

After enduring the horror of 'Antichrist' I was has hesitant to return to Lars Von Trier's work, but that is no longer the case thanks to that films companion piece Melancholia.

Both films begin with a slow motion overture sequence, lush with dynamic imagery and classical music from Wagner. But where I found 'Antichrist' to be laughably pretentious in its stylized pornographic images during the opening, Melancholia uses much more beautiful and thought provoking images that foreshadow events throughout the rest of the movie.

My inner cinephile geeked out when I recognized the snowy town artwork during the overture was a reference from Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, and sure enough right after show that artwork Von Trier cuts to the sci-fi planet element.

You could go shot by shot interpreting the scenes of the overture, but the one that really stood out for me was when we see Charlotte Gainsbourg's character Claire sinking into the golf course holding her son. After watching the whole film we know this is one of the desperate actions she takes to escape the upcoming apocalypse. But what I found entertaining was how the flag on the golf course says hole 19, and Kiefer Sutherland's character specifically notes in the movie that his golf course has 18 holes ... hinting that the planet Melancholia will be crashing into this massive 19th hole aka Earth.

After the overture the film is divided into two parts, the first for Kirsten Dunst's character Justine and the second for her sister Claire. I really loved the Justine portion of the film, but the second half dragged a bit for me.

Each half is focused on how its title character deals with their depression. Justine's portion is all about her wedding reception that she arrives late to. The large cast of side characters in this portion of the film are excellent and include Alexander Skarsgård, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, and Charlotte Rampling.

Having gone thru my own wedding night reception I really connected with the character dynamics of these scenes, and the rituals of such an event. Justine's depression is expertly depicted in how its preventing her from having any real enjoyment from this landmark event in her life. We even see her get called out about it by Sutherland's character who is paying the event.

I was never a big fan of Kirsten Dunst from the Spiderman movies, but her character Justine looks absolutely gorgeous in Melancholia wearing this wedding dress. Von Trier expertly toys with the audience in how proactive Justine looks by always having her cleavage in the shot. And then when we think this will go to the next level with a romantic sex scene, Von Trier turns the table and instead we get this meaningless spiteful sex shown from a distance on a golf course. Then early in the second half we do see Justine topless for the first time, but it is not in a glamorous fashion, instead it is during her lowest and most pathetic moment. And that's Von Trier, the master manipulator at work.

In the second half of the movie just deals with Calire and her depression and fear about Melancholia crashing into earth. It is interesting how once Justine recovers from her lowest moment of depression, the impending doom actually put her at ease. There is subtle sci-fi element that I did not pick up on a first about her being psychic and being able to know things like how many beads are in a jar, and that the world will end. But I did not feel like that really added anything to the story.

The second half of the movie meanders some, and I did not think it was nearly as engaging. Most of the imagery from the overture comes back up, and then we get this epic climax that swells with music leading up to the collision.

This is beautiful arthouse film that acts as a character study, accented by elements of a sci-fi drama, and would be an excellent choice as a first Lars Von Trier film.

I would love to get recommendations on which Von Trier film I should check out next, I am thinking it will be 'Breaking the Waves'.

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Happy movie watching ... SKOL!

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