All doom and gloom

‘Melancholia’ is a depressing mess.

Melancholia 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Melancholia 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Melancholia Written and directed by Lars von Trier Hebrew title: Melancholia.Running time: 136 minutes.
In English with Hebrew titles Lars von Trier’s latest film, Melancholia, raises the question: What would you do if you knew the world was about to be destroyed in a few hours? You may have to ponder that question, but I don’t – I would want to spend that time doing anything but watching a Lars von Trier movie.
The bombastic, pretentious Von Trier (the “von” in his name is an affectation he added himself) made a few good films early in his career but has long since strayed into formulaic pretension. The Danish director strayed into something else altogether at the Cannes Film Festival last year (where Melancholia was awarded a Best Actress Award for its star, Kirsten Dunst) when, at a press conference, he made admiring remarks about Hitler: “I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things. Yes, absolutely . . . he’s not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit. . . I am of course very much for Jews, no, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass.”
He was banned from participating in the rest of the festival, but Melancholia still won the award for Dunst, who did her best acting at the press conference, sitting next to von Trier as he made these comments and hiding her mortification under a tight smile.
Now, if he were a great artist, we could speculate about whether it would be possible to ignore his repugnant remarks and concentrate on his work. But since he is an arthouse hack whose films are increasingly predictable and banal, there’s no need for that discussion. The good news is that Melancholia does not feature anything nearly as revolting as the graphic, unmotivated sexual mutilation in his 2009 film Antichrist. Just imagine what Melancholia is like if that’s the highest compliment I can pay it.
Von Trier is one of those directors who, to quote Joan Didion (who was writing about other filmmakers), possesses “a stunning visual intelligence and a numbingly banal view of human experience.”
The film opens with the ultimate spoiler, as Kirsten Dunst stands in various poses outdoors, under gray clouds as birds drop from the sky, while a strange green planet hurtles toward Earth. In some shots, she is joined by a little boy, who turns out to be her nephew, Leo (Cameron Spurr), and her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, who thankfully seems to have fully recovered from the unspeakable act she committed on herself in Antichrist).
The film then moves to the first section, about Justine (Dunst), a bride who is on the way to the wedding reception with her groom, Michael (Aleksander Skarsgard, whom True Blood fans will recognize as Eric from that series). The wedding is held in an isolated mansion owned by the neurotic Claire, and Claire’s husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland of the TV series 24). The bride and groom look gorgeous, but there are all kinds of hints that something is not right. The bride’s father (John Hurt) is surrounded by a group of young women, all named Betty. The bride’s mother, played by a haggard-looking Charlotte Rampling, makes a bitter speech about how the marriage won’t last.Justine’s boss (Stellan Skarsgard, Alexander’s father), the director of the advertising agency where she works, is there, too, and he is a malevolent figure. While Von Trier may have sympathy for Hitler, he apparently does not have warm feelings for ad men. All goes well, at first, but then Justine sinks deeper into the melancholia that has always plagued her. When she chooses to have sex with a random stranger instead of her gorgeous, kind groom, it’s not only fans of True Blood who will feel that this movie makes no sense.
The second part is about Claire and her worries, during the following days, that the world will end when Melancholia, a planet that scientists have said will pass near the Earth, will actually collide with it. Since we saw the opening and this is a Von Trier movie, in which anything portentous that can happen will happen, there is no suspense. Waiting for the big moment, as the sisters bicker on the lawn of their gorgeous house, is like watching paint dry. Just like the characters, you won’t see anything on screen worth saving, and you’ll hope for the end to come sooner rather than later.