Monday, September 12, 2011

TIFF HIGHLIGHT #1: MELANCHOLIA (Lars Von Trier's 'Armageddon')

Starting off this years Toronto International film festival (for me, at least) was Lars Von Trier's latest; 'Melancholia'. After watching the film and then sleeping on it for a night i realized that i actually do like it (something i wasn't sure of on Thursday when the credits rolled). My favorite thing about 'Melancholia' is that this may be the first film Von Trier has directed since 'Dancer In The Dark' (11 years ago) that wasn't made strictly to piss people off or to push buttons. With 'Dogville' (2003) he set out to piss off Americans. In Manderlay (2005) he set out to piss off white Americans (and ended up pissing them off as well as black people). 'The Boss Of It All' (2007) felt like we'd all been "had" and 'Antichrist' (2009) pissed just about EVERYONE off.
In 'Melancholia', the story of 2 sisters (Kirsten Dunst & Charlotte Gainsbourg) trying to mend their relationship with each other and battle depression before the "end of the world" (a planet known as "melancholia" is headed towards earth to destroy it), it seemed like Von Trier simply set out to make a great film. And for the most part he did. Von Trier didn't go too deep in to Dunst & Gainsbourg's history as sisters or why Dunst is so depressed and unstable, but in the opening wedding sequence when we're introduced to their family (specifically their mother played by Charlotte Rampling) we see why they have so many issues. Through out the film the sisters' roles with each other switch. In the first half, Dunst becomes depressed to the point where she can barely move and its her older sister (Gainsbourg) taking care of her. But by the end of the film, fear takes over Gainsbourg (due to planet earth's inevitable destruction) and its Dunst who takes control.
'Melancholia' DID have a few problems (that some of you may not even find as troublesome as i did).
Lars throws his depression all in our faces (mainly through Kirsten Dunst's character) to the point where we almost cant take it anymore. Its SO drab and depressing at times (although Udo Kier's presences is a great comic relief). When you look at it one way, i guess Von Trier succeeded (i mean, the title of the film IS 'Melancholia'). Its a movie about the end of the world. But the problem is that not everyone wants to sit through a film that's SO depressing and draining. So beware. Also, some of you may find parts of the film a bit boring.
But if you hang in their until the end, everything pays off. In my opinion, the ending of 'Melancholia' is one of the top 3 things Lars Von Trier has ever done. Along with the final sequence, the opening of 'Melancholia' (featuring some very memorable images) and Charlotte Rampling's speech during the wedding were some of my favorite scenes.
Von Trier's last 2 films have a lot more visual effects then his other stuff. In 'Antichrist' we had the talking fox and the ghostly faceless women walking up the hill towards Willem Dafoe at the end. In 'Melancholia' there's even more visual effects.

the planet "melancholia"
the planet "melancholia" next to the moon
scene from the opening sequence where tree branches cling to Dunst
another scene from the opening sequence

Normally Von Trier will throw in a reference to Tarkovsky or Bergman. But in 'Melancholia' it looks like he's referencing shots from his OWN work (specifically 'Antichrist'). Some scenes and shots look identical. There's a scene in 'Melancholia' when Dunst looks directly in to the camera as dead birds are falling from the sky. That shot is directly out of a scene in 'Antichrist' when Willem Dafoe looks in to the camera as acorns fall down in front of him in slow motion. Even the title cards in both films look alike...

Antichrist Opening Credits

Melancholia Opening Credits

Dafoe in 'Antichrist'

similar shot Dunst in 'Melancholia'


similar shot in 'Melancholia'

Outside of Lars's controversial statement at Cannes this year, there was a lot of hype about Kirsten Dunst's award winning performance. I was sceptical, but i have to give her credit now that I've seen it. I seriously thought she was way too fragile to work with a guy like Lars but she did a great job. Other standout performance came from Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling and surprisingly...Keefer Sutherland (especially during the first half).
Lars Von Trier continues to be more and more destructive with each film. Blowing up a train full of people in 'Europa' wasn't enough for him, so he moved on to murdering an entire village of people in 'Dogville'. Apparently that wasn't enough either, so now he wants to blow earth up. In a way, 'Antichrist' feels like an unofficial prequel to 'Melancholia'. Its almost like the talking fox in 'Antichrist' was warning us of things to come when he delivered the famous line: "chaos reigns". Both films have a bleak outlook on life with depressed characters struggling to find meaning.
It looks like Terrance Malick started the movie year off with a film about creation and Von Trier is gonna end it with a film about total destruction.
A still from the creation scene in 'The Tree Of Life'
The Planet "Melancholia" headed for planet earth
'Another Earth'

Between 'The Tree Of Life', 'Another Earth' and 'Melancholia', planets seem to be the "in" thing in cinema this year.
OK, its been a long day. In addition to 'Melancholia', I also got a chance to see the new George Clooney political thriller 'The Ides Of March' (which you'll be reading about soon), Aki Kaurismaki's 'Le Havre' and Lynne Ramsay's 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'.


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