It’s certainly his most serious film in a while and you don’t get the sense that he is manipulating or mocking the audience as he usually does. It feels like he is passionate about his material here, possibly because it’s a movie about depression and Von Trier has said openly that he battles depression himself.
Although at one point in the film I was hating it, by the end I was entirely under its spell.
Divided into two halves – one following Kirtsen Dunst through her wedding reception, one following her sister Charlotte Gainsbourg as it dawns on her that a rogue planet (called, you guessed it, Melancholia) is going to collide with Earth – the film is a meditative, haunting and ultimately devastating work that fearlessly reflects on the meaning of it all.
Key to its success is a stunning performance by Dunst (who has also talked publicly about suffering from depression), a beautiful, successful young advertising executive who is chronically depressed and senses the impending end of the world. Dunst’s face says everything (which is a good job since some of the dialogue is awful), as she veers from extreme happiness to despair and finally a quiet strength in the face of inevitable nothingness. Dunst’s star is reborn here and she is an immediate contender for the best actress award at Cannes.
Von Trier also reminds us what a visual master he is, and the use of beautiful imagery here to illustrate his theme from the gorgeous prologue (accompanied by music from Wagner’s Tristan And Isolde) to the final astonishing moments are even more effective than Terrence Malick’s in The Tree Of Life.
Memorable and hilarious in a small role is Udo Kier as the wedding planner who refuses to look at Dunst after she disturbs the order of the day, shielding his eyes every time she comes into his line of vision.