Melancholia (2011) | Film Review

Melancholia was written and directed by Lars von Trier, and starts Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg as sisters in the middle of the wedding of Justine (Dunst), all the while a planet is closely coming towards Earth, to collide and possibly end all human life. With fantastic cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro, and music from my favourite Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde, we are given a story that observes the slowness of time as experienced by people with depression.  

Justine is married, and her and her husband make their way to the weeding reception. In the beginning we are given a happy Justine, whose dream of being happy is being realized. Slowly we learn that she is in deep depression, and the first signs of an episode begin to show. Time slows down for the viewer, as we are taken through the images of the reception, to hat Justine does when no one else is watching. Soon, her facade begins to break, and we see her depression shown in her face and actions as times goes by. This analysis of what is like to have depression is quite accurate, as von Trier himself based the film in one of his episodes. Justine shows most of the symptoms of clinical depression; difficulty concentrating, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, insomnia, anxious feelings, all of which show up at different times, as if to hit the nail harder in the head. 

Luckily for those that might get bored simply learning about what depression feels like for those suffering, the movie is accompanied by wonderful imagery and astounding music.  Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde changed much of Western music at the time of its release, using many of its tones here implies similarity with, not only the success, but also the flow of the film. The sad notes, which follow a tragic love affair, are used to present the love between the sisters, one in deep melancholy, and the other who only wants her sister to be happy, which is possibly, never coming. It is a colourful film as well, not only are there darkly coloured tones to show the depression, but also greens, and lights to illustrate the small moments of both sides of the emotions. Quite fantastically used, applause to cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro. 

The best scene in the entire film is actually, the opening shot, which takes the form of an overture-like scene, with classical music on the background,  Pieter Breughel’s Hunters in the Snow, a sundial, as well as the most wonderful scene of Justine being swept away by the river but being stopped by her wedding dress. All of these elements hold some sort of connection to melancholy, which is, in best basic therms, what the film is all about.

I do believe that the film is not for everyone. The intricate shots, the slow narrative, the over-sadness of it all, can be boring for most people, and therefore, might find no joy in seeing such a depressing tale. But if a fan of “art-house” films, this one would be right up the alley. 

★★★★

 

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