CANNES CHECK: ‘Melancholia’

Posted by · 8:40 am · May 10th, 2011

The director: Lars von Trier (Denmark)

The talent: After the lonesome two-hander that was “Antichrist,” von Trier is back to the all-star ensemble form of “Dogville” — and an eclectic ensemble at that. Taking on the traditionally punishing duties of von Trier’s female lead (though the man maintains she got off lightly) is Kirsten Dunst. Previous von Trier alumni in the cast include Charlotte Gainsbourg, John Hurt and Stellan Skarsgård, while Charlotte Rampling, Skarsgård’s son Alexander and, most unexpectedly, Kiefer Sutherland join in the fun. (Plus, Udo Kier is credited as “Wedding planner,” which sounds like very good value indeed.) Below the line, the most important thing to note is the switch from von Trier’s regular DP Anthony Dod Mantle to the less familiar Manuel Alberto Claro (“Videocracy”).

The pitch: The film’s official one-line synopsis may well be one of the most brazenly off-balance I’ve ever read, so I see no need to paraphrase: “Two sisters find their relationship challenged as a nearby planet threatens to collide into the Earth.” (Well, yes — planetary collisions have a way of complicating things.)

Dunst and Gainsbourg are the sisters, Melancholia is the good-time planet. Events kick off with Dunst’s wedding to Skarsgård, Jr., before tracing the sisters’ opposing reactions (one calmly accepting, the other panicked) to the planetary threat. Sounds like prime von Trier territory, with emotions writ large and amplified by a touch of the absurd; the director’s claim that this is the first of his films to have an unhappy ending (unlike, say, the feelgood fiesta of Bjork’s execution in “Dancer in the Dark”) should probably not be taken at face value.

The pedigree: No secret that von Trier is one of Cannes’ pet auteurs: this is his ninth time in Competition. Over his first five entries, he gradually ascended the awards ladder, taking the Technical Grand Prix for 1984’s “The Element of Crime,” the Jury Prize for 1991’s “Europa,” the Grand Prix for 1996’s “Breaking the Waves” and, finally, the Palme d’Or for 2000’s “Dancer in the Dark.” Since then, juries have given it a rest, though “Antichrist” nabbed Gainsbourg the Best Actress prize two years ago.

The buzz: Given von Trier’s lofty festival record and his hard-earned reputation as a trouble-stirrer, there was no way his latest was going to arrive quietly on the Croisette — and true to form, assorted journos are excitedly describing the film as “controversial” before they’ve even seen it. Excitement about the film isn’t limited to the rubbernecker crowd, fortunately: the very attractive trailer has gone down a storm in the blogosphere, and on Twitter, Cannes insider Cédric Succivalli alluded to glowing reports from the privileged few who have seen it.

The odds: No surprise that the bookies tip this one quite heavily, given von Trier’s past form at the festival and the high name-recognition factor here. I find myself holding back, even if the film proves extraordinary: since winning the Palme in 2000, there seems to have been a perception that the director has been sufficiently rewarded (or to put it another way, that he’s peaked) at Cannes. (When a film as significant as “Dogville” left empty-handed in the less-than-vintage year of 2003, it’s hard not to wonder if the jury simply felt von-Triered-out.) Still, over a decade has passed, and an acting win for “Antichrist” proved his films are still competitive. Speaking of which, mark down Dunst (possibly in tandem with Gainsbourg) as a possibility to carry off a third Best Actress win for the director.

 




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13 responses so far

  • 1 5-10-2011 at 9:06 am

    Jake D said...

    Love the Dancer in the Dark line.

  • 2 5-10-2011 at 9:37 am

    Michael said...

    ^ haha, agreed. I’ve never full on sobbed at a movie before, much less in an actual movie theater, then when I went to see Dancer in the Dark. Von Trier can (mostly) do no wrong in my eyes and the trailer sure does look like fun. I just have a feeling like they put him there (in competition) b/c he does bring a lot of attention to himself (and the festival by default) but I don’t think he even really needs to win awards anymore. I don’t even think bad reviews could keep me away from at least watching this film in theaters.

  • 3 5-10-2011 at 10:26 am

    red_wine said...

    “the first of his films to have an unhappy ending ”
    Jesus God. I am sure I will jump of the roof after watching Melancholia. :P

    The trailer looks very promising and some of the tableaux compositions seemed to me like an extension from Antichrist. I hear you guy when you bemoan Dogville going home empty-handed. Dogville is sensational.

    I am more excited to see Gainsbourg than Durnst as it seemed that Gainsbourg will be the more traumatized woman. :)

  • 4 5-10-2011 at 10:45 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’m holding off watching this trailer and the Tree of Life clip.

  • 5 5-10-2011 at 10:48 am

    Bia said...

    I’m so ready for the return of Kirsten…she’s been so quiet. I know she had to get some sh*t together, but she is quite a talent.

  • 6 5-10-2011 at 10:52 am

    red_wine said...

    Yep, she disappeared for a whole while, now she has lead roles in films by von Trier and Sofia Coppola. Quite a coup for her.

  • 7 5-10-2011 at 10:56 am

    Jason said...

    I thought von Trier said “no more happy endings,” implying that this will be his first film without a happy ending.

  • 8 5-10-2011 at 1:56 pm

    kel said...

    any chance that kiefer sutherland could pull off a Best Actor win?

  • 9 5-10-2011 at 3:37 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    At this point, we don’t really know enough about the size or nature of his role. I’m guessing he’s more a supporting presence, but certainly look forward to finding out first-hand.

  • 10 5-10-2011 at 7:57 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Gah, the “Dancer in the Dark” ending is so manipulative and disgusting. Like the rest of the film.

  • 11 5-11-2011 at 5:29 am

    Glenn said...

    It was only a matter of time before Lars von Trier just decided to destroy the entire planet, I guess.

  • 12 5-11-2011 at 8:56 am

    JCS said...

    With regards to the ‘happy ending’ of DitD, maybe the fact that Bjork’s son had a successful eye operation meant he had to kill the mother to avoid a pleasure overload? Can’t be too happy, after all…

  • 13 5-11-2011 at 3:20 pm

    Casey said...

    This is the film I look forward to most.
    In one word, it looks … brilliant