Film review: Melancholia

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland | 15 | 136mins

Humans are the only species who live their lives with the knowledge they are ultimately going to die, or so the philosophy goes. In his new film, controversial Danish director Lars Von Trier has a field day with this premise by putting his characters in the path of a fictional planet, Melancholia, which is hurtling towards Earth, threatening obliteration.

The film begins happily enough: Justine (Kirsten Dunst) has just tied the knot with sensitive, sweet Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). The pair, though late for their wedding reception – their stretch limo couldn’t negotiate the narrow roads – are determined to enjoy the occasion despite simmering family tensions. As the night wears on, doubts and petty grievances chip away at Justine’s resolve, sending her spiralling into a deep depression. While Justine’s family cope with her illness they must also face up to their own mortality as Melancholia bears down on Earth.

Kiefer Sutherland puts in a star turn as Justine’s uptight, materialistic brother-in-law, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as his wife Claire, beautifully captures the desperation of a mother determined to protect her son. But all eyes are really on Dunst who gives the performance of her career as the troubled, morose Justine.

Sensitively written and directed, Melancholia is also visually gorgeous: Von Trier’s opening montage of dreamlike images (see Dunst as a Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia, above) along with his imagining of the celestial body are truly breathtaking. It drags a teeny bit towards the end but all told this is a profoundly affecting film.?

Good for: Anyone wanting a film that lingers in your head long after the reel has stopped


Also showing this week

The Debt

Starring: Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson | 15 | 113mins

Loosely based on the real-life hunt for Nazi sicko Albert Eichmann, The Debt intercuts the tale of Mossad agents in hot pursuit of a war criminal in East Berlin with the fallout from their mission 30 years later. On paper it sounds enthralling, but The Debt can’t decide whether it wants to be a spy thriller or a psych-drama. The limp script and the uninspired direction don’t help, despite strong performances from the leads

Red State

Melissa Leo and John Goodman, who teamed up so beautifully on David Simon’s acclaimed small-screen creation Treme, are reunited – on celluloid – for this thriller about a group of American teens lured into a Christian fundamentalist group by the online promise of sex. Director and writer Kevin Smith made his mark in the Nineties as the maverick genius behind zeitgeisty DIY gem Clerks. Expect no less originality here. On general release.