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It works for me as a metaphorical parable about the trials of marriage, but apparently Lars von Trier intends the events of the film to be taken quite literally. No matter—either way it’s a full-out masterpiece. An instant classic that will undoubtedly be taught in film classes for decades to come. It’s the best I’ve ever seen from von Trier—and I’ve got at least a good half-dozen of his under my belt. It’s emotionally wrecking(hence the one-line “review” I initially gave that was among the three original e-mails that started this blog), but it was time to give another look to this magnum opus and dispense a proper review. Just as enthralling the second go-round, I without a doubt will be revisiting it again in the future.               How in the world did Kirsten Dunst just turn 30 a couple of weeks ago? It seems like she’s been with us much, much longer. Indeed, her IMDB page confirms that she first graced the big screen in 1989’s “New York Stories” which was released when she was at the tender age of six. Of course, it wasn’t until almost six years later that audiences truly sat up and took notice, when the then 12-year-old received critical plaudits for playing the tiny bloodsucker Claudia in 1994’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire”. Acclaimed performances in works like “Little Women” and “The Virgin Suicides” followed, before a three-film stint with a certain webslinger from 2002-2007. So, the girl’s been around for a good spell. However, you still may be stunned by the level of maturation and fearlessness she exhibits as Justine in “Melancholia”.               The end of the world has arrived, baby—and Lars wants you to know it right up front with a masterful montage featuring music from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”. It’s a gorgeous sequence that plays like a capsule reveal of the denouement, and sets a foreboding mood and tone that is impossible to shake over the next two-plus hours. The film’s first half is a protracted wedding sequence with sometimes comical(and occasionally uncomfortable)delays as Ms. Dunst’s Justine character attempts to get through the reception ceremony after her marriage earlier that day. Her nocturnal wanderings at that celebration establish her as someone with an impulsive and distracted personality. Many, including her new husband, are obviously aware of this—but continue to try to fool themselves that she has these inconsistencies under control. The fantasy does not last through the overnight, and the nuptial coupling appears to be doomed by dawn. Also, throughout the party, Justine observes an unusual “star” in the night sky. And soon the calamity of the evening’s events will transform into a much larger and destructive collide.               The latter portion of “Melancholia” switches the primary focus to Justine’s older sister, Claire(performed by the always interesting and unusual beauty, Charlotte Gainsbourg). Claire and her husband John(a commanding Keifer Sutherland), who threw the recent lavish affair for Justine, are currently housing her and helping to stave off her current depression. But John is losing patience with the situation, as we learn throughout this section that a giant hidden planet is entering our solar system and just may be on a collision course with Earth. John, an amateur astronomer, is excited by the scientific discovery—and insists that the planet(Melancholia)will safely fly by our world. But Claire, obsessed with Armageddon predictions on various internet websites, slowly convinces herself that a cataclysmic event is approaching—and she begins to mentally unravel before her husband, their young son Leo, and an oddly calm and subdued Justine. It appears their attitudes have “flipped” in this final portion of the piece—with Claire being passed the baton of instability, while Justine dons the guise of strength and acceptance. Life has become fleeting and possibly faces extinction, and all of our adults handle the approaching disaster in a different way—John, shockingly, in the most uncompromising way of all.               This English-language, but foreign-produced, film is extremely low-budget by the Hollywood barometer. Regardless, the visual effects are realistic and impressive. It was illuminating when watching the DVD’s special features to learn just how much could be done with music and a spotlight on a crane. Also, the wedding reception half of the movie features some incredible performances from recognizable stars. As Justine and Claire’s divorced parents, John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling are brilliant in their portrayals of two people severely damaged by the failing of their union. Rampling, in particular, is a standout in her supporting role. And the marvelous Udo Kier is hilarious as the put-upon wedding planner. It’s been said that von Trier’s idea for this film emerged from his own severe bouts of depression, and his writing and direction showcase unique insight into its often crippling grip. So, even though Lars may want me to buy that planetary crash, I’m going to hold out some hope for survival of the race—as sure as the veil of depression often lifts to the promise of the start of a new day. But maybe my optimism is naive, and von Trier(along with his distaff doppelgänger, Justine), exhibit the proper level of acceptance by film’s end. Either way, you will not soon forget “Melancholia”. It was nearly my favorite film of 2011. But it’s a collosally strong runner-up.     Grade:   a wildly enthusiastic A


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