WITH AN ASTOUNDING sense of timing, an even blacker sense of humour and a resumé steeped in controversy, Lars von Trier never fails to provoke debate among audiences (and critics).
For added oddball value, Australia is having the man’s latest dish served cool, as a curious antidote to the festive season’s juggernaut of box-office monoliths. Suggesting that if you can’t bear a yuletide blockbuster, there’s always Lars.
This latest effort – which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, following an infamous press conference (and later, von Trier being banned) – couldn’t be further from the excruciatingly bleak ANTI-CHRIST.
Yes, it does have a fresh spin on von Trier’s battle with depression, presenting a curious view on the apocalypse, but as von Trier himself explained to me, it’s his most upbeat film yet.
It begins with a grand, operatic prelude, set to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Images of golf courses and flying horses are bizarrely intertwined with a static shot of Justine (Kirsten Dunst), all frocked up for an impending wedding. An abstract, fly-on-the-wall view of the party’s arrival and its offbeat nuptials follow, forming what is Part One, entitled ‘Justine’.
Part Two, labeled ‘Claire’ (Justine’s sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg), takes an entirely different tack, remaining outdoors as the planet Melancholia heads for a collision course with Planet Earth. The end is nigh, it would seem, and no god will save us from it.
Feeling like two disparate acts glued together for an occasionally awkward whole, von Trier said his overcoming depression lightened his mood, and it shows. He even described a key waterside scene with Dunst to me as “feeling like a shampoo commercial”. He is, though – typically – too harsh on himself. His star, Dunst, bravely agreed to don a birthday suit, and her performance here is exemplary. (Notably, she won Best Actress at Cannes.)
MELANCHOLIA may not be the sweeping opus it could have been, but it’s a typically eccentric hoot, nevertheless. It clearly showcases Kirsten Dunst as a bona fide force of nature: something that’s been hitherto overlooked or ignored. For that alone, it gets my vote.
Critical Rating: 8/10.
MELANCHOLIA is in cinemas from Thursday.
First published in The Sun-Herald.