Surprisingly abuse-free: Melancholia

Friday May 20th 2011

It’s safe to say that Melancholia is firmly out of the running for the Palme d’Or now that Lars von Trier’s been banned from the festival for being Lars von Trier. This is good news for fans of forgettable middling tedium, because Le Havre‘s chances of taking home the big prize just went significantly up, but bad news for fans of sincere, haunting, powerful cinema because Melancholia is exactly that.

Ironically, the film von Trier is now unable to promote is one of the least provocative he’s ever made. There are no genital mutilations, talking foxes or explicit penetrations – just brooding, thoughtful meditations on the end of the world. Like The Tree of Life, it juxtaposes a focused, interpersonal story with an unimaginably huge global event – in this case, a possible planetary collision between the Earth and the eponymous Melancholia, which hovers menacingly in the background during the film’s first half before getting all up in our collective grills towards the end. In short:

… except Téa Leoni on a beach with her dad is now a depressed Kirsten Dunst and various members of her extended family, who incidentally are all amazing – Gainsbourg, Sutherland, Hurt and most excitingly, DOUBLE SKARSGÅRD! So intense…

While it reigns in the willful provocation he’s so famous for, Melancholia has exactly the same sort of Lars Von Trier™ feel that Antichrist had: this is his movie and he wants the world to know it. His director credit appears above the title, scrawled massively across the frame like a toddler marking his territory with a crayon. It’s not quite as indulgent as The Skin I’m In‘s ludicrousa film by Almodóvar’ but it’s a close second.

But unlike Pedro Almodóvar’s film, Melancholia actually feels like a Big Deal for its director. It has a scope far beyond any of his previous work, and in terms of both character and structure, its one of his most fully-formed creations. Von Trier himself might celebrate being banned from the festival, and offer critics his opinion that Melancholia ‘might be crap’, but beneath the Nazi jokes and devil-may-care attitude, you get the sense that he’s actually proud of this one. And rightly so – it’s brillo.