For years now, all those Lars von Trier haters out there have been saying, or at least implying, by all their critical caterwauling, that the audacious auteur would some day destroy the world. Well guess what? The melancholy Dane has done just that in his new, aptly titled work, Melancholia. Take that! In fact, just to stick it a little bit to those LvT haters, as soon as the NYFF press screening was over and I found my way back out to 65th and Broadway, I called the film a Goddamned Masterpiece on Facebook - and I stand by that even on second and third thoughts. Take that too!!
LvT is certainly what most would call a divisive filmmaker. You either love the guy and his baroque, operatic style (which is highly evident in Melancholia) or you hate him for his arrogance and vulgar pretensions (which also is quite evident in Melancholia) - and to the nth degree in whichever direction you happen to choose. I happen to choose (if there is actually a conscious choice - perhaps, like being gay or straight, one is born a von Trier lover or hater) to be on the love side of that fence (from the director's eleven theatrically released features, only the quite disappointing Manderlay is held in low esteem) and my reasons for picking that particular side probably have quite the overlap with the reasons so many hold for hating the man, and his films, so greatly. Take that as well!
Meanwhile, Melancholia, a film about how an incredibly dysfunctional family copes with love, loss, depression and the literal end of the world, is certainly a force to be reckoned with - even amongst LvT's already demanding oeuvre. The film is split, much like his last film, Antichrist (the nadir of the aforementioned haters existence), into a stunningly shot, and quite cinematic opening and closing, replete with ominously beautiful classical music and utter despair and destruction, bookending an ultra-realistic centerpiece of hand-held cameras and improvised words and actions. Unlike that film though, which many called misogynistic and sadist (and in a way, the film is both things - so much so that a misogyny consultant was amongst the closing credits...and yes, it was a woman), Melancholia has no real controversial aspect to speak of. Yeah, the guy destroys all life as we know it - and in the first two minutes at that - but he doesn't have paramour Charlotte Gainsbourg doing anything with power tools this time. That's something, right?
Actually Melancholia is probably the director's best chance for mainstream accessibility (due more to name stars like Cannes Best Actress Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland, who gives an astonishingly brilliant performance as a rather cocksure jerk, than typical mainstream storytelling, but such a thing did not help Dogville at the box office - and that had Nichole Kidman AND Lauren fucking Bacall!). The film's accessibility will come to possible fruition when it is released (by Magnolia) to a somewhat unsuspecting US audience on November 11th of this year. Okay, I'm not a mindless dreamer - I know a box office draw is not about to happen (especially for a film that depicts the destruction of Earth as both existential metaphor and pretentious reality), but at the same time I do not foresee the rabid antagonistic rhetoric from LvT haters that Antichrist's Grand Guignol artifice had elicited upon its release. Again, that's something, right?
A full review of Lars von Trier's Melancholia will be coming a few days prior to its 11/11 release date.