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Guest Review: ‘Melancholia’

Guest Blogger Assesses the Latest From Lars Von Trier

Above: Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgard, Keifer Sutherland, and Charlotte Gainsbourg await disasters of various sorts in "Melancholia."

Welcome guest blogger Jeff Murray, who will be contributing reviews to Cinema Junkie. His first review is of Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia" (now playing at Landmark's Hillcrest and La Jolla Village Cinemas.

In “Melancholia" -- the sci-fi, existential universe of director Lars von Trier -- a planet once hiding behind the sun is now headed toward earth threatening to destroy the lives of two sisters whose realities already seems to be falling apart.

"Melancholia" opens with several beautifully shot, slow motion sequences of Kirsten Dunst inching to life across the screen, partnered with other artistic shots of planets, trees, and horses. These slow moving shots make up the first few minutes of the film with so much stylistic gravitation that the audience can’t help but look for symbols in every newly evolving scene. And with the premise of a planet threatening to destroy earth, it's near impossible to not assign symbolism to everything else in the movie.

Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg play sisters in "Melancholia."

Magnolia

Above: Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg play sisters in "Melancholia."

The movie has two chapters each named for one of the sisters -- “Justine” (Dunst) and “Claire” (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Chapter one, “Justine”, starts with Dunst’s character en route to her wedding reception with her new husband Michael, (Alexander Skarsgard). The chapter begins with a playful scene where Justine and Michael’s stretch limo gets stuck trying to navigate down a windy dirt road. After the limo driver fails at maneuvering the oversized cab, both Michael and Justine take turns driving before finally giving up and walking to the wedding reception.

After arriving two hours late, the rest of the chapter is a devolving, family-orchestrated catastrophe made unbearably uncomfortable and at times awkward thanks to the performances by John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, and especially Kiefer Sutherland. There were hints of humor, giving the audience much-needed relief, but because of the pervasively dark tone of the movie, some comedy came off more like absurdity than anything else.

The second chapter follows Claire as she attempts to help Justine recover from her depression and deal with her own growing psychological issues as “Melancholia” approaches. She talks and pleads with Justine, doing anything to understand her sister’s problems, and Gainsbourg truly does a wonderful job at expressing the frustration and helplessness felt by people trying to relate to another’s issues.

But eventually Dunst proved most masterful in her ability to move slowly and seamlessly from the perfect post-wedding bliss to utter apathy by the end of the film.

"Melancholia" (rated R for some graphic nudity,sexual content and language) tended to be emotionally overbearing at times, (it was a relentlessly downward spiral), but the well-crafted characters and performances, as well as the stunning visuals, kept the movie from being a depressing drag and instead made it into a compelling and symbolic story.

Jeffrey Murray is a recent graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University where he studied business and world literature, also working as the Features editor for the school's newspaper, The Point Weekly.

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