Posted on Wednesday May 18, 2011, 16:14 by Damon Wise in Cannes 2011
I can't say I had my usual high hopes for Melancholia; I spoke to Lars Von Trier via Skype just a few weeks ago, and, while he was on fantastic form, he seemed to have a few doubts about his latest (“I'm just afraid that I've made a film that's far too nice,” he laughed). And he has; though there's no mutilation or hardcore sex, Melancholia is mostly disappointing because it just doesn't demand enough of you. Kirsten Dunst stars as Justine, a depressive woman who's just got married, and the first half of the movie deals with her wedding, which threatens to end in disaster. The second half focuses on her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who is somewhat concerned by the huge planet, the Melancholia of the title, which, although scientists say otherwise, seems to be on a collision course with Earth.
The first ten minutes are breathtaking, offering the whole movie in mini-bites to the operatic strains of music from Wagner's Tristan And Isolde. But as soon as it settles into its story, Melancholia becomes talky, uninvolving and strangely stilted, with such ungainly lines as, “You've been looking at the internet!” The result is a Persona-style meditation on depression, with Justine/Claire acting out the two halves of the director's psyche – one half normal, caring, frightened, the other half resigned to death and even, in a chilling way, rather looking forward to it.
True to form, the film does not wimp out and Von Trier does not shortchange us in the final, simultaneously horrific and beautiful scene. But the emotions it leaves us with are not those he has presented before in his multiple masterpieces Dancer In The Dark, Breaking The Waves or Antichrist. The women are little more than ciphers, and Dunst, though surprisingly good as the withdrawn and often vicious Justine (a part written for Penelope Cruz), gets less to do than any Von Trier heroine has ever done before. Strangely, though, I rather like the wistful responses it does generate: suitably for a film about melancholy, that's precisely what it engenders.