By William Wolf

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2011--MELANCHOLIA  Send This Review to a Friend

How would you like the end of the world to be? A horrific experience? Lots of explosions and movie disaster clichés? In “Melancholia,” directed by Lars von Trier, the ending is quite lovely, almost a soothing experience given what he leads up to in the intimate study of a woman and those surrounding her who will be eclipsed along with the rest of our civilization.

In the screenplay by von Trier, a director who can be counted upon to do the unusual, Melancholia is the name of a planet that is headed bang-on to collide with earth. The title is also a reference to the melancholia that grips the leading character, Justine, given a brave and mesmerizing performance by Kirsten Dunst, who bares her body as well as her soul in the course of the quiet, atmospheric drama.

The setting is a lavish estate where Justine is celebrating having as just been married to Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), but the marriage has only served to accentuate Justine’s inner unhappiness, and the increasing sense of personal despair is paralleled by the oncoming obliteration of our planet. The style of von Trier is to advance toward the end in a low-key fashion, with a careful marking of the planet’s progress. The visuals are striking, from the wealthy environment to he final scene in which the oncoming Melancholia gets bigger and bigger. Oddly, the closer the disaster, the greater the serenity.

The director has assembled an impressive cast, including Charlotte Rampling as Justine’s mother, Charlotte Gainsbourg as her sister, Keifer Sutherland as her brother-in-law, John Hurt as Justine’s father and Stellan Skarsgård as her boss. The confrontations and dialogue give us a sharp portrait of this pampered social set, but the prime focus is on Justine, who notices and tracks the menace form beyond.

The film is slow and can try one’s patience even while prompting admiration. The payoff, of course, is at the end when Justine’s melancholia blends with the advance of Melancholia the planet and the finale comes not with fireworks but with the filmmaker’s sense of beauty. Will you buy it? A Magnolia Pictures release.

  

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