REVIEW: Melancholia, a subtlety of sadness

Sara El-Kamel, Saturday 26 Nov 2011

Danish director Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is (as the name implies) a story of sadness and gloom supported by cinematography that echoes the forlorn mood with flair and originality


Emotion is raw, and the picture is bedecked with stunning graphics. That’s not to say that at momemts the movie Melancholia fails to engage.

Melancholia opens with a seven-minute montage of exquisitely beautiful shots. The visual imprint of the starting sequence alone is enough to make it a movie well worth remembering. Scenes are stunning in colour and motion; they are evocative of a slowly moving painting. They are like mental images captured from inside the mind, or a dream of a woman beyond repair.

Melancholia is divided into two parts; a dismal wedding, and the imminent approach of the mystifying planet, Melancholia, towards earth.The second half is perhaps anti-climactic, infused with impatience akin to “waiting for the world to end.”

Justine, played by the usually perky Kirsten Dunst, is stripped to the core. Justine sinks into melancholia on her wedding day; a painful paradox. On a day considered by many women the happiest day of their lives, Justine battles gloom throughout the extravagant ceremony. Meanwhile, her parents aggravate her tension; Justine's mother is old and bitter and her father a fool.

The beautiful bride tries to smile, far from whole-heartedly, and sways clumsily to the music. Despite her doting groom's longing for her, Justine’s melancholy ultimately overshadows her sensuality. Even her once radiant face is suffused with pain by the end of the ceremony.

Trying to get her through the night is her caring sister Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg.

So, one sister is hysterical and desperate to hold onto life. The other wants nothing more than to be put out of her misery.

Lars von Trier manages to draw empathy for the miserable Justine.

The movie takes place in an unidentified location in what seems like another world. The setting is a mansion with an 18-hole golf course owned by Claire’s husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland). The dynamics of love and dysfunctional family ties all play out against a surreal background of moving planets and stars in the sky.

As with Von Trier’s past work, there is a lot of camera movement, which contrasts the crisp clear colours and elegant art direction of Melancholia.

At times, the frantic zoom-ins and zoom-outs get disorienting, echoing Justine’s descent into depression, sometimes distracting the viewer.

While the film raises questions around happiness, relationships, knowledge and science, it attempts to answer all too directly the question of whether we’re alone in the universe and whether the world is a good place. After watching two hours of Justine’s melancholia, some viewers would be inclined to see the world the way she does: as an evil placewhere you will always feel alone.

This pessimism and a desolate feeling lingers with the viewer, falling short of sparking the imagination for of the viewer for ideas and questions about the universe.

Von Trier’s Melancholia may very well be a masterpiece. He certainly is a piece of work, a self-proclaimed best director in the world (Cannes, 2009). He is known to suffer from occasional depression, which explains his masterful presentation of the emotion.



Thursday 24 November, 9:30pm - Galaxy Cinema: 67 Abd El Aziz Al Saud St., El Manial

Friday 25 November, midnight - Stars Cinema: Omar Ibn El Khattab St., Nasr City

Sunday 27 November, 9:30pm - Stars Cinema: Omar Ibn El Khattab St., Nasr City

Tuesday 29 November, 10:30am - Galaxy Cinema: 67 Abd El Aziz Al Saud St., El Manial

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