Following Lars von Triers Nazi gaffe at the Cannes Film Festival I suppose we should, by rights, boycott his work but that’s the equivalent of cutting your nose off to spite your face! How can you ignore the Danish filmmaker who can produce such movies as Breaking the Waves (1996), The Idiots (1998) Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003) and of course Antichrist (2009) a truly haunting film that gave Charlotte Gainsbourg a Best Actress Award. Its terrifyingly beautiful prologue is one of the best opening sequences of any film since Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Shot in slow motion black and white, a married couple make passionate love in the bathroom of their fourth floor apartment. Their young son Nic opens the gate of his cot; see’s his parents as he passes the open bathroom door, climbs on to a table beside an open window knocking over three figurines marked Grief, Pain and Despair. Its snowing as he falls from the window to his death accompanied by his woollen rabbit. The complete scene is in silence except for the aria from Handel’s pastoral opera Rinaldo and now von Trier gives us another memorable imaginative opening piece.
Melancholia (2011), is probably the directors most ambitious mainstream feature film to date, it has a full seven minutes long opening sequence which includes a planet colliding with, and destroying earth. There are strange slowed down images that resemble holograms including Kirsten Dunst striding in her wedding dress with creepers dragging at her feet, Charlotte Gainsbourg carrying her son across a golf course that appears as a quagmire both against a nightscape gorgeously lit by the moon and the afore mentioned planet. The films narrative is divided into two sections each one dealing with one of two sisters, Justin played by Dunst and Clair portrayed by Gainsbourg. The first deals with Justin’s farcical wedding day and introduces us to her dysfunctional friends and family including her mother and father played by Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt. As the elaborate celebrations, organised by her sister, disintegrates Justin descends in an ever-deeper melancholic depression. The second segment focuses on Clair who along with her husband (Kiefer Sutherland) and their young son Leo (Cameron Spur) administers a very large Country House Hotel with full size golf coarse and some very luxurious grounds. Clair is forced to allow Justine to stay at their hotel when her sister’s mental state deteriorates; all the while the strange blue planet called Melancholia gets ever closer to earth, the same planet we see in the prologue. Strangely Justine deals with the impending catastrophe and the acceptance of death far better than her sister, declaring that life on earth is evil anyway!
|Justin and Clair.|
The most beautiful scene in this movie occurs in this section and involves Justin who goes out at night to take a closer look at the approaching planet, removes her clothes and lays on the bank a small stream, naked, this scene is so wonderfully lit with a tremendous blue glow, the true work of a cinematic genius.
This co-production between Denmark, Sweden and France is in English not von Trier’s native Danish and was shot on location in Vastra Gotaland Southern Sweden.
As with most of his work this hypnotic movie does not fit an American or British filmmaking template, more akin with the Ingmar Bergman’s school of filmmaking. David Thomson said in an article in the Guardian newspaper and I paraphrase, von Trier is here to trouble us, not to entertain us, and this latest offering does just that. It’s not a film you either like or dislike, it’s a film that you admire and marvel at.