Spoilers ahead. Not in a very long time have I such anticipated a film’s opening, in this case from the greatest living director (his words), bad boy Dutchman Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. This was set to be the best apocalyptic film yet made. Fresh off his depressing and drab Antichrist (2009), he grabbed me with his stunning trailers and imagery promising us a visual masterpiece. What follows is prelude as climax, eight to ten minutes of epic slow motion beauty: Kierstin Dunst (a great perf and Best Actress at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) running through the woods in her wedding dress dragging tree limbs, a close up of Dunst with falling dead birds, Dunst with electricity coming out of her fingers as power lines behind her do the same, Dunst in a set piece in dress smothered by mother nature (see above image), a stunning sequence of a woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) running through some hellish 19th hole (I take it as von Trier’s shot at country club culture?) then beautiful shots of the planet Melancholia threatening earth. All of this is set to the overture to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde that peppers the film throughout.
Then comes the Part 1, “Justine,” an interesting if not hum-drum wedding reception of Justine (Dunst) and new husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). Justine’s mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) makes a scene by denouncing marriage, the new couple is three hours late to their own reception, Justine squabbles with her boss Jack (von Trier’s often used Stellan Skarsgård) about an ad campaign and Justine bonking a co-worker on the golf course on the palatial estate of the set for Part 1, Justine’s brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland). This act seems pleasantly improvised yet a too familiar story of family dysfunction. The protagonists see and discuss a new star in the galaxy. Justine tells Michael to piss off.
Part 2, “Claire,” has main protagonists Justine, John, Claire and Claire’s young son Leo (Cameron Spurr) holed up in John’s estate awaiting the outcome of the soon to be colliding, or passing by, planet Melancholia. John is optimistic, Claire is frightened and Justine is ready for it. It’s a set piece for Justine’s extreme depression and its moving in that regard; however as impending doom approaches I waited for a return to the film’s prelude. It never happens. The film ends with a bang but also disappointment as it delivers straight forward storyline, not the prelude’s surreal landscape that promised my expectation of a better film. Subsequent viewings might sway me.
Postscript. After four other viewings I realize how much this film represents the best of 2011. A complete artistic achievement.
***** / *****