Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Melancholia (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Lars von Trier is the L'enfant terrible of current cinema. Few directors provoke. To get a reaction from others is to stimulate and move the mind. Such reactions ranging from delight to disgust proves that cinema, like painting, possesses antennae, transmitters and electric current. Lars von Trier is a director of motion from the subtle to the downright scary. This is no small thing. And he doesn't fail to disappoint or confuse, perhaps leaving his audiences hanging, which is why I find him a compelling director despite his appalling and odd statements about Hitler.

With his latest outing "Melancholia", you might get the feeling that von Trier sees the dark side of everything under the sun and you would probably be right.
The film, although not as visually upsetting as the very graphic "Antichrist", still can make you uncomfortable with its deep close ups of faces numb, dead or in torment. But "Melancholia" at least gives us a bit of breathing space where von Trier's last film was all constriction, German Expressionism and writhing dismemberment.

The film stars Kirsten Dunst as Justine (Marquis de Sade, anyone?). Justine is about to get married but she is a bit... well, moody to say the least. Justine seems oppressed or repressed by some strange draught upon the brain as soon as she enters the Gothic looking mansion where the reception takes place. The mansion is as important as any character in the film and it is positively creepy.

 The bride and groom get stuck in a ditch and of course, arrive late. Soon tension escalates between the bride's father (Jon Hurt) and mother (Charlotte Rampling). The wedding party takes on a disquieting feeling as strong as "Macbeth" or as nerve-jangling as the Hollywood party depicted in "The Exorcist" with a whirling camera showing queasy kids unsettled in sleep as the adults menacingly insult one another in semi-whispers. No one is very likable in the film, but this is Lars von Trierworld. Every film is an emotion unto itself. And usually not a pleasant one.

 Suffice to say, there is a new planet named Melancholia that seems to be listing towards earth and it is making everyone very, very high strung. Granted, you may have seen characters who mope around with unwashed hair in von Trier's films often enough and I know that Kiefer Sutherland is weak, obsessively looking into his microscope and fretting.

 But hold on to your horses.

 The Prologue alone is a film that stands by itself having some of the most startling imagery that you'll ever see. Lars von Trier is a Surrealist par excellence, second only to David Lynch. His stark shadows on a brilliant green golf course would make De Chirico and Magritte weep and rise again, not to mention his faces of children who look like ambivalent or evil-streaked angels fresh from the brush of Botticelli.

 The natural world seems to be both living and removed in Trier's films, pulsing with a numinous intellect, not of this solar system. von Trier's inhabitants often become infantile or regress, consumed with demonic passions long spent in primordial forests half forgotten by our descendants.

 However, not since Andreas Serrano's artwork has there been a man that some love to hate on a personal level,(understandably so) but who also has the ability to show nature in all its sorcery, with all the jarring juxtapositions between our worlds, both the organic and the man-made.

 For cult science fiction fans, this film is nothing less than a visual rendering of J.G. Ballard's upper-class outer worldliness and his stories of doomsday beachcombers and neurotic astronauts, lost on terra firma.

 "Melancholia" is an apprehensive but thoughtful film with vibrant haunting visuals that fall back to the paintings of Salvador Dali and Magritte, while at the same time offering new ways to interpret Luis Bunuel's "Un Chien Andalou" (1928). That should be reason enough to turn your frowning fear for von Trier upside down and see this film.

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