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Melancholia

Year: 2011
Production Co: Zentropa Entertainments
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

There are few directors so polarising as Lars von Trier. I've loved almost every one of his movies that I've seen and will come out in his support every time. Even though they're hardly mainstream, I find them much more accessible than you'd expect those of an arthouse Danish director so frequently called 'l'enfant terrible'.

So I was a bit worried what I'd think of this film after I missed it at the cinema. It had been months before I finally caught up with it on DVD and I'd heard almost a year's worth of reviews, anecdotes and comment, much of it (as his movies always attract) negative.

I needn't have worried. With his current muse Charlotte Gainsbourg and a stellar cast (even getting a nuanced performance out of one-note Kiefer Sutherland, who can't do much more than whisper intensely nowadays), Melancholia is as much a doom-laden pseudo-thriller about a planet threatening to destroy Earth as it is a film about depression and the way people respond to it. The scenes of Claire (Gainsbourg) trying to physically lift her exhausted sister Justine (Dunst) into the bath are heartbreaking.

Like some of Todd Solondz' best work, the movie is broken up into two halves, after the haunting introductory opening where the beautiful blue planet Melancholia destroys Earth with its slow, almost languid impact.

The first is Justine's wedding to her fiance Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) at a beautiful country estate on the coast. It's a celebratory time full of laughter, love, speeches and food but several veins of impatience and hatred simmer underneath it all. There's the girls' estranged parents (John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling), whose bitterness that turns into all-out and embarrassing hostility.

Justine and Claire have never gotten along very well either, Claire only half accepting of her sister's history of crushing mental illness, further confused by the complete disdain by her rich husband John (Sutherland).

Then there's Justine's relationship with her boisterous boss (Stellan Skarsgård), the prickly wedding planner crying doom at every stage (Kier) and a hundred other unfolding dramas. And all the while, Justine is trying to keep the black dog at bay and enjoy her big day with her handsome, attentive new husband.

After the wedding, it's a few days later. Michael has already left, the circumstances not too clear except for sad, hushed voices. Justine has fallen into the depths of despair, unable to walk or bathe herself, hardly able to get out of bed. When fed her favourite dinner, she starts to cry and tells the gathered family it tastes like ashes.

And while John's been watching the progress of the visitor to the solar system with great interest, Claire can't shake the crawling terror Melancholia will be the end of everything and everyone despite John's assurances.

Scenes of the giant blue planet rising over the sea with the accompanying throb of its energy across space forming a constant rumble of low thunder in the air are as amazing as anything you've seen in a popcorn alien invasion flick.

There are no cutaways to presidents or generals ordering nuclear strikes and no riots in the streets. von Trier never leaves the idyllic old castle home of the family, and the only global disintegration we see is in the relationships and states of mind of those present.

You can peel back the corners for the hidden meaning – I don't now if there was one, I think von Trier just wanted to once again document his own battles with depression. Melancholia indeed looks what it feels like – like the world around you is doomed and there's no way off the planet to save yourself.

Or it could be another end-of-the-world spectacular, albeit much slower, more beautiful and more tragic than most. The first handful of shots – so slow-moving you mistake them for stills at first – are so lushly gorgeous you feel like you could watch them for the whole movie.

A rich experience for all your senses and feelings. von trier doesn't need stunts like his Cannes Film festival Nazi comments to get attention – he has more talent as a director in his toenail than a room for of Hollywood hacks.

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