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September 19, 2011 | by  | in Arts Film |
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When critics label a film as a disaster movie, for many it conjures up thoughts of horrific cinematic clichés, flimsy characters and dialogue consisting of endless screaming and shouting. As such, I was a little apprehensive when I sat down to watch Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, it having received that dreaded ‘disaster movie’ label. However, these fears proved to be unfounded, for Melancholia swept me away; it is, by far, one of the most emotionally raw and visually spectacular films of the year.

Set a few years into the future, Melancholia tells the story of two sisters, Justine (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), sifting through their abundance of personal issues as the end of the world draws near due to the imminent collision between Earth and a planet called Melancholia.  Dunst entrances with her portrayal of manic-depressive Justine, a woman who, after months of severe turmoil, seems content with the fact all life will soon be obliterated. Dunst’s understanding and portrayal of the cold, nearly-emotionless husk that life has reduced Justine to is chilling and utterly engrossing. It is to her credit that by the end of the film our feelings towards the character remain mixed, at once applauding her realistic fatalism and decrying her heartlessness towards Claire’s obvious anxiety.    

However, what really elevates Melancholia to a level of cinematic greatness is Von Trier’s sublime mastery of the aesthetic. The opening ten minutes of the film is one of the most visually arresting pieces of film I have had the pleasure of witnessing, the horror of total destruction brought to life in stunning beauty. While the film meanders during the middle, the truly epic ending draws the audience back in, and is unequivocally much more emotionally resonant than the endings of many disaster films.  

Despite the rather glacially-paced middle portion of the film, Melancholia has reaffirmed Von Trier’s status as a visionary filmmaker. He expertly mixes interesting characters, with a supreme mastery over style, to form a film that lingers in one’s mind long after the credits have rolled.

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