Review: Melancholia


MFR Rating: ★ ★
After seeing the incredibly irritating trailer, which seemed to play before every film I’ve seen this summer, my expectations surrounding Melancholia couldn’t have been much lower. I was prepared to be surprised but sadly Melancholia is perfectly advertised. It hits every note with the pomposity and inanity the trailer promises.

The film begins with one of the most pretentious opening sequences imaginable. It shows some sort of arty apocoloypse in slow motion. It’s like Director Lars von Trier wants you to know you are not just watching a film, you are watching a piece of art. I’ll make my own mind up on that one, thanks.

Split into two unnecessary halves, Melancholia begins by starring Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding day, filled with a traditional helping of family dysfunctionality. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this first half, but it’s just not very interesting. There are some nice moments with Charlottte Rampling playing a rather horrid mother of the bride and some interesting signs that all might not be quite right with the happy couple, but you’ve got to feel this opening hour sequence could have easily played out in 30 minutes with a similar effect. 20 minutes, even.

The second half of the film is equally slow, focussing on Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she takes care of Justine who appears to be suffering from some sort of depression (or melancholy??). Meanwhile, Claire and her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) are somewhat concerned about a planet (called Melancholia) which appears to be on a collision course towards earth. Unsurprisingly, they deal with their fears…melancholically. All the build up is so dull it’s impossible to care about this threatening apocalypse and the tone feels about as distant as a planet but unfortunately it never decides to get much closer. Everyone’s just extremely melancholic about the whole thing.

Probably the most annoying thing about the film is none of the characters decide to switch on the radio or TV to find out exactly what the situation is outside. They’d rather mope around and reflect the film’s tone, rather than try to look like real people. Impending doom – hurry up?

Actually, the most annoying thing is the soundtrack. Repeatedly featuring Wagner’s prelude to his opera Tristan und Isolde, the track is so overplayed and overwrought it becomes a thing of hate. As a piece of music on its own I rather like it, but the film does little to justify its use and seems to believes its grand inclusion will somehow elevate the film to the gargantuan crescendos of catharsis von Trier believes he has created. It feels forced, pompous and incredibly irritating.

It’s one of those film where you have to say “well the cinematography was brilliant”. It was. It’s beautifully shot and elegantly lit but the fact that’s what I’m mentioning as the greatest positive says just about everything for how the film made me feel. Melancholia is overambitious and takes pretension to new, starry heights. The only melancholy felt was a deep regret that I lost my two and quarter hours.

Melancholia is out now in the UK. Running time: 136 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).

Comments and feedback are always welcome or just give the film a rating by using the stars at the top.

Review by David Rank

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