Last year, von Trier gave us Antichrist, which was intriguing, but oblique at best. It was, however, the beginning of an evolution in his filmaking in style, subject matter, and direction. That evolution brought us this year’s Melancholia, which is easily his most visually stunning movie and the story, for all its convolutions, is equally fascinating. What is different is that this offering is completely accessible and filled with very available layers of meaning–while still remaining open to interpretation.
Say what you’d like about von Trier, but he has clear point of view with his work and he follows it through.
From the outset you know you are in for something different. In some ways this almost feels like a new Greenaway film as it relies heavily on nods to art and music in both its composition and reference. However, the characters are much more based in reality, albeit in a heightened situation. And the cast that pulls it all together is quite the talent pool and led by Dunst’s subtle, powerful performance. A performance that is already starting to collect awards. But that doesn’t diminish Gainsbourg, Sutherland, Hurt, or any of the others’ contribution to the result. Everyone is solid and believable.
This isn’t a movie to everyone’s taste. It takes a while to make itself clear while providing you enough to chew on along the way. Personally, I’ve loved von Trier for many years (staring with The Kingdom) but to say he is an acquired taste is an understatement. However, this is his most generally accessible piece yet, I think, and it has a very different feel to his other work. There is a grounded sense of reality, despite the opening, and the story slowly unwinds in a careful way that keeps you interested as your understanding shifts.
I have to admit there is a bit of a self-satisfied, evil grin from the director to the end of the film, but it is very effective and left me with reverberations of ideas and metaphors and questions about my own life as well as feeling that the story itself was satisfied. This is what we want from a good story–an aftertaste and residual feelings; something to stick with us.
It is a shame that the Cannes controversy has overshadowed this film, and likely his career going forward. I prefer to separate the man from his art in this case as it was a stupid gaffe (really, really stupid) but feel the film world ultimately over-reacted.
While this is likely to only find a limited audience, it is something worth seeing. In fact, I may still decide it is worth owning as I find it still haunting my thoughts this morning.