★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
The first ten minutes of this film had me quite concerned with what exactly I was getting myself into, but the ensuing film was an immensely intriguing character study.
Defining the synopsis of this movie in detail would be, in my opinion, a rather futile process. Let’s just say it’s a Bergman-esque family drama via Lars von Trier. Oh yeah, and there’s a cosmic anomaly that is causing a hidden planet to come dangerously within Earth’s rotational path during the course of the story. The relationship in question that the story focuses upon are of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who are very different and have a strained, but oddly caring relationship. Their parents, Gaby (Charlotte Ramping) and Dexter (John Hurt), are equally odd in their own ways and possibly a good explanation for their daughter’s troubles. Claire is somewhat more grounded than Justine in her marriage to ultra rich, John (Kiefer Sutherland), and with her son Leo (Cameron Spurr), but as the narrative progresses and the strange planet of Melacholia approaches Earth, her defenses seem to be broken down more than Justine’s.
What von Trier has created with this film is an engaging and intriguing look at the psyche of these two sisters as their lives play out during what could be the final weeks of life on Earth. It seems almost as if the approaching planet of Melancholia triggers an even deeper emotional block for both the sisters as it’s rotation closes in on Earth’s. Almost every aspect of this film surprised me in how well it works because, as you can tell by the description, it is a pretentious story. However, unlike the pretentious Tree of Life, which I was completely let down and uninterested in, this film wholly succeeded in keeping my engagement throughout. I was worried about whether or not the story would take, the direction with its shaky camera movements throughout, the odd characterizations of the primary characters; yet, in the end, almost masterfully so, I completely understood why von Trier made those decisions and it ultimately worked beautifully for the film.
I am still thinking about this film today, trying to pick out and analyze pieces of its meaning, and that is always a sign of a great movie. It’s a shame that von Trier made that SNAFU comment earlier in the awards season this year, as I feel it took the spotlight away from what is most important – the film itself. This, in turn, I think took some of the respect this film deserves away, and this movie deserved a lot more recognition than it got. If you don’t mind a pretentious film and want to see one that is done right, then so far, this is the best one I’ve seen from 2011.