Friday, 7 October 2011



You can probably tell from its title that this is not a film of high jollity, and indeed the greatest amusement was generating from no less than six people walking out of the film (and not coming back) during its final screening last night at the Milton Keynes Cineworld. Laughs there are none. Moments of great visual beauty, excessive length, unanswered questions, much that is impenetrable, as you'd expect from auteurist art cinema, but little to dispel the gloom, misery and sense of futility. On one level it's unfair to criticise a miserable art movie for being a miserable art movie, in the same way that you can't knock Friday The 13th Part V for its lack of insight into the human condition, but on another level there are several points where you really want the damn thing to lighten up.

Towards the end of the third Naked Gun movie there's a spoof Oscars ceremony and the nominees are synopsised as "one woman's triumph over a yeast infection set against the background of the tragic Buffalo Bills season of 1991" and "one woman's ordeal to overcome the death of her cat set against the background of the Hindenberg disaster". Well, Melancholia is principally concerned with one woman's battle against catatonic depression set against the background of the impending destruction of the planet Earth. Part One features Justine (Kirsten Dunst) as a spoiled, miserable advertising copywriter on her wedding day - she arrives two hours late at a country mansion hotel for her monumentally expensive reception, disrupts the day's schedule, chucks her job, insults her boss, and cheats on her new husband by shagging a bloke she's only just met (on the golf course). Part Two features her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she attempts to drag Justine out of a depression so deep she can barely walk, as the planet Melancholia breaks all the laws of physics by breaking out of its orbit from the far side of the sun and hopefully doing a Star Trek slingshot manoeuvre - or possibly then turning round and smashing into the North Pacific. Roll end credits.

The opening ten minutes or so is a gorgeous montage of ultra-slow-motion visuals of Dunst as the apocalypse begins, intercut with CGI effects of the planetary collision, accompanied by Wagner's Prelude to Tristan And Isolde. Frankly I could have just watched that for the punishing 135 minutes, and it would have been lovely, but they cut to an hour of this tiresome wedding reception full of idiotically rich people. Yes, there's John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling, Udo Kier and Kiefer Sutherland, Stellan Skarsgard and Jesper Christensen; it's always good to see them but before long you really are willing the rogue planet to hurry up and smash into them. Then we get a second hour of moping and whining with the two sisters at Gainsbourg and Sutherland's huge mansion (incidentally so enormous you wonder why they didn't hold the first act reception there) as Melancholia does its interplanetary three-point turn and speeds unstoppably towards Earth. While the happy and contented Claire panics in the face of global annihilation, Justine faces it with stolid acceptance.

If Wikipedia is to believed (and I don't believe that everything on there is a lie) Lars Von Trier apparently conceived this movie during therapy for his ongoing depression: he supposedly directed Antichrist while suffering the same condition and while it lacks the extreme and offputting imagery of that film, it's just as frustrating. I really wanted to like Melancholia - I'd actually like to like all movies - and while I genuinely liked isolated, beautiful moments, there's a hell of a lot to be annoyed and bored by. I'm glad "difficult" arthouse cinema is getting through to a few multiplexes and out of the niche circuits; as I believe multiplexes should cater for all audiences and not just shovel out the hollow studio slop. But surely you can have arthouse movies that aren't about deeply uninteresting things happening to deeply irritating people?


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