Director Lars Von Trier's previous film Antichrist was a movie I really wanted to hate, but couldn't quite get there. Now, don't take that to mean that I liked it, I didn't. But, despite it being a sexists, pretentious, overblown mess of a film, I couldn't quite bring myself to hate it. Despite it's many, many problems, I could sense potential buried underneath it all, a unique filmmaking style and a tendency towards artistry. He could be a great director if he just got over himself and with Melancholia it seems he's finally done that.
The plot...is kind of weird and hard to describe without spoiling anything. After an extremely unique cold open (seriously, the first 7 minutes of this movie justify it's existence all on their own, they are simply gorgeous) which depicts the Earth being destroyed in a collision with a giant planet, the film begins at a wedding and...that's all I want to say about it. See the film for yourself if you want to find out whether the initial 7 minutes are real. Suffice it to say the film gets very weird, very fast.
Kirsten Dunst has the lead as Justine, the bride and she's getting the most attention, and it's well deserved. She owns this role in one of the subtlest most unique performances of the year, giving quiet depth to her initial collapse in the first half of the film and to her deep depression in the second half. It's one of the most realistic depictions of depression I've seen on film, and the best performance of Dunst's career thus far. Kirsten has the best performance of the film, but she gets incredible supporting work from Charlotte Gainsbourg as her put upon sister and Kiefer Sutherland as her husband (the sister, not Kirsten's).
The script is quiet and moves in and out of genres, at first appearing to be surrealist, then more conventional, then more fanciful before finally revealing itself as deep mediation on the nature of depression. Even some of the casting, seems to be working that angle, with the metatextual casting of Kirsten in the lead (who is still most famous for her 'damsel in distress' roles in the Spider-Man films) and with the sterotypically masculine Jack Bauer in the secondary role. How this particular bit of metatext works itself into the finale is technically a spoiler, but it does come up in the last 20 minutes of the film or so.
The direction is probably the oddest thing about the film. The camera work and lighting are particularly interesting. As I said, the gorgeous first 7 minutes, shot in extreme slow-mo, is one of the most gorgeous sequences I've seen in any film of 2011 and the numerous call backs to that style tend to be hauntingly beautiful. Most of the rest of the film is has more conventional camera work, albeit with some incredibly dark lighting and a near complete lack of any music.
This was technically a film I meant to see months ago, but didn't get a chance to until now and I wish I had, it would have made an excellent addition to my top 10 films. Regardless of how impossible it is to find at this point (it should be out on DVD soon) Melancholia is one of the most unique and impressionistic films of 2011 and well worth watching if you can. Do not miss this one.
Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he's going to assume Sutherland's character is Jack Bauer after having settled down.