Tuesday, December 27, 2011


The bureau chief saw Lars von Trier's "Breaking the Waves" in 1996 and vowed never to see another of his films. It's the story of a naive and religious woman who decides that she must obey, as an order from God, her paralysed husband's request that she have sex with other men and then describe it to him. She has rougher and rougher sex, with a variety of men, until she's killed. She's a kind of Christian sexual martyr. The description sounds interesting but the experience of watching the film is horrifying. We see a confused and harmless woman being brutalized to death.

None of the reviews of von Trier's subsequent films made me want to see them, until "Melancholia". I'm very glad I did. First, it's beautiful. Back in 1996, von Triers made "Breaking the Waves" following the rules of "Dogme 95" which allowed only handheld camera, only production sound, only music that was played in the actual scene, etc. He's abandoned all that. A lot of the music is Wagner. The camera work is excellent. The central special effect, a planet approaching the Earth, is well done. One thing that hasn't changed is that the casting and the acting are very good.

Melancholia is the name both of the approaching planet and of the depression that afflicts Justine (Kirsten Dunst). You scholars of the Four Humors know that the excess of Black Bile that causes Melancholia also produces an artistic temperament and Justine has one, although she is wasting her talent writing ad campaigns. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is married to John (Kiefer Sutherland). He's very rich and Claire spends her time being a hostess and mother. The first half of the movie is named "Justine" and chronicles the opulent and painfully disastrous wedding party that Claire throws for her sister. The second half is called "Claire" and chronicles the approach of the planet and how the central characters deal with it.

Justine had fallen into an immobilizing depression after the failed wedding but the approach of the planet begins to strengthen her just as Claire becomes weaker and more helpless. In the end Justine manages to create an absurd little piece of art in the face of the final day. I really enjoyed this film and highly recommend it.

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