Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Rampling
Director: Lars von Trier
The 'pitch' for Melancholia on its promotional brochure merely states the film is 'a beautiful movie about the end of the world'. And Lars von Trier stakes his seemingly paradoxical claim by boasting one the most intriguing opening sequences to have appeared on screen in recent years.
Lasting nearly 10 minutes, the Danish director plays out a pending Armageddon in a montage dripping with German romanticism, as Wagner's Tristan and Isolde accompanies increasingly beguiling tableaux-like images of the characters' psychological breakdowns before ending with the earth slowly falling apart upon collision with another planet.
Having toyed with the expectations of many with that epic prelude, the mischievious von Trier duly delivers a two-parter about domestic turmoil and depression.
Melancholia follows advertising executive Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her elder sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, below right with Dunst) as they contend with the former succumbing to an melancholia-induced self-implosion at her wedding - a meltdown that proves to be the harbinger of a more disastrous event to come, as humankind faces annihilation in the shape of a green planet hurtling towards earth.
'Enjoy it while it lasts,' says the siblings' embittered mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) to Justine. A self-proclaimed hater of rituals, the matriarch is perhaps referring to the wedding replaced by; but she might as well be casting her glance off-screen, as Melancholia - a title that points to Justine's mental state, and also doubles up as the name of the oncoming planet - puts viewers through the psychological turbulences of a group of flawed individuals before everybody dies as the earth and its inhabitants become trapped in a 'dance of death'.
Melancholia is grittier and uglier than its opening purports to be, and von Trier's latest opus has its share of tedious passages. The film is, after all, a fictional manifestation of von Trier's own mental problems, with Justine his depressive proxy - but the film remains mostly captivating with its candid and cruel depictions of narcissism and neurosis through the monstrous characters hovering around the sisters.
Melancholia opens today