10/7 - I can't say I was particularly energized after the 4 1/2 hour trip from Michigan, but I'm sorry to report that the second half of the first film of my CIFF journey, Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, nearly put me to sleep. Until, of course, Von Trier spitefully, almost comically, cranked up the volume on the film score to "11" in a seemingly deliberate attempt to wake up the entire packed house of the AMC River East 21, in what seemed like a nearly unprecedented bit of technical tomfoolery. So, was it the car ride, or was it the movie? Damning a film for being "slow" is not really my thing, but, dammit, the second "tych" of Von Trier's new "diptych" is a slog that makes you wonder if the rather remarkable achievements of the first half were even worth it.
Allow me to backtrack: the opening of Melancholia may stand as one of the most sumptuous and breathtaking moments of the entire CIFF, but the film as a whole may simultaneously stand as one of the most hated. Of course, Von Trier's contempt for humanity has been a much talked about subject as of late, but forget his Cannes ramblings about the Nazi party--the real contempt may be found right in his latest film. The aspects of Melancholia that are successful range form the spot-on performances of Kirsten Dunst, Keifer Sutherland (maybe his best performance?), and Alexander Skarsgard to the breathtaking opening montage, which evokes the stylistic imagery of advertising culture, a world that Dunst's character, we later learn, is employed in. The supporting cast is fantastic, featuring Von Trier regular Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, and, in a particularly hilarious turn, Udo Kier. The problem with Melancholia is that within the first 90 minutes or so of the film there lies a perfectly fine new Von Trier entry--gorgeous visually and playfully subversive in it's depiction of a filthy rich wedding reception that, character by character, reveals with elegant pacing the dysfunction underneath the dressed-up surfaces, evoking, in it's finest moments, the Renoir masterwork The Rules of the Game. And, oh yeah, the world might end due to a planet called Melancholia that is headed right for us.
Then, we get to part II: "Claire." Claire is the wound-tight sister to Dunst's character, Justine, and is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who was also featured in Von Trier's last film, Antichrist, and who is very good in both pictures. Unfortunately, she gets featured in the half of the film that doesn't work, and that also begins to reveal Von Trier's truly snide ugliness as a filmmaker. I won't say cynicism, because I don't think cynicism is necessarily a bad thing, and there may be those that read Von Trier's finale in Melancholia as a compassionate gesture in the face of hopelessness by Justine. Also, Von Trier may be playing some Godard-ian games with pacing, which is a major issue for a good forty minutes of the film, but if that's the case, as with a few of the lesser Godard experiments, I don't want to play. Melancholia is one of those rare examples of a film that has such tremendous tension between what is unforgettable about it and what is entirely resentful, and often just sloppy, that I've kind of been living in critical limbo with it since the screening. It certainly has tended to eclipse other films in conversation, although I think the picture that followed on my opening night, although much smaller in scope, may have been more successful in what it set out to achieve...
Up next: Rabies
|Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia|
|Melancholia (the planet) in Melancholia (the movie).|
Up next: Rabies