Posted by: greercn | October 5, 2011


About two years ago, there was a film fashion for series called “Disaster 7” and “Doom 5”. I seemed to miss out on the early installments of these oeuvres, but managed to catch the big flashing effects of the latter sequels. Things went bang, the world ended or was saved and special effects teams everywhere popped champagne corks, whichever conclusion took place.

“Melancholia” presents a doomed world, but one that is oddly French, rather than Danish or Scandinavian, despite its provenance being the vision of Lars Von Trier. The relationships between the characters feel as if they are out of a terse summer in Paris rather than from elsewhere.

I am not wholly convinced by Von Trier. I like some of his ideas, but not the bleak and grungy bits.

As always,  I am beyond hypnotised by the beauty of the Notting Hill Gate Picturehouse. Gold detail and burgundy velvet chairs that are soooo comfortable do thrill me and they sell one of the best cups of coffee in London. Add to that the friendly and charming staff and clean toilets with Pears soap by the sinks and I am beyond bliss into persistent vegetative joy. Did I mention the paintings? Really, this is just the BEST cinema ever.

So , I am on another and more luxurious planet when I am here. Sigh. I would prefer to live in this cinema.

The Cannes jury must have been a bit startled by seeing this movie at the same time as Terrence Malick’s “Tree Of Life”. There is much in common between the two films. Except that Malick has a distinctively American take on doom as bound up in psychology and Von Trier feels that life on earth is inherently rotten and hurts itself without the benefit of Bad Mommies and Flawed Humans.

Mental ill-health is a state of wellness, in response to life on the planet, here. It’s the end of the world as we know it – or is it?

So much puzzles the viewer. The gorgeous Kirsten Dunst deserves her best actress gong and should win the Oscar. It’s a glorious and nuanced performance of a nervous breakdown with psychic clout and she glows through it all.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is her sister, with a strange European accent at odds with her sister’s American tones. Never apologise and never explain is Von Trier’s message on this and every other issue.

There are tons of great performances in this. Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgard and Alexander Starsgard (son?) all shine brightly.

Cameron Spurr is a child star to watch out for. He is extraordinary.

You want the plot? Sisters Justine and Claire are at Justine’s wedding. The sky is weird. Is the planet Melancholia about to hit and wipe out earth or not?

Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” booms out of every scene. Dunst’s Justine can get in and out of that wedding dress all by herself when she wants to, but she needs help, at odd moments.

People eat and bathe with a kind of deep set hysteria.

Okay, it’s deeply weird. But I didn’t look at my watch once in 136 minutes and I have the attention span of a gnat on a good day.

It’s brilliant and flawed and annoying. It will haunt my dreams. I will buy the DVD but that act will irritate me.

Do beg, steal or borrow a ticket. It will bug you, but that’s okay.



  1. Hi Greer,

    I must disagree this time…I watched the movie yesterday at the Barbican and I believe there was very little to save from it…”Tree Of Life” had infinite nuances of color, camera work but most of all “purpose”, which is exactly what’s missing in Melancholia…

    When I say “purpose”, I don’t mean just “plot”, “psychological insight of the characters”, or anything else that normally makes a movie “entertaining”, because people mostly want entertainment when they go to the cinema right?

    In this case “purpose” means to me “cinematic perspective”, that such a master as Von Trier seems to have a lost: let’s face it, Melancholia is pointlessly slow, totally unresolved and in the end I would say simply unnecessary.

    Unlike you, I did end up looking at my watch 3/4 times, and I can’t say I’m not used to watch long or even challenging movies…

    Point to me is: to make a movie worth watching, you can use the most intricate symbolism even at the point of being obscure, but in this case it seems to have been done in a complete meaningless way…

    Makes me think of Zappa when, talking about music, he said:

    “Nothing weird about that as long as you do it in a meaningful way”

    • I love Frank Zappa but I think you are being harsh on this film. It has more depth than Malick’s film does. I always respect your opinion!

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