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Melancholia

Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia
5
Friday November 25th, 2011

Kirsten Dunst (Justine) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Claire) are brilliant as sisters in Lars von Trier's apocalyptic masterpiece Melancholia.

Part One "Justine" focuses on the elaborate wedding reception for Justine and her groom, Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), at the wealthy estate of her brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland). Claire has planned a lengthy series of festivities but Justine is strangely disinterested and morose. It's as if the entire wedding were a charade beginning with her marriage to a likeable but not-too-bright friend of Jack (Stellan Skarsgard) a boorish Public Relations boss she despises.

Justine and Claire's mother, Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) is a dedicated nonconformist who disapproves of John and Claire's slavish devotion to rituals and traditions. Justine is closer to her father, Dexter (John Hurt), a foolish man who revels in making a spectacle of himself. Hanging over the entire reception is a pall of doom. Armageddon is coming but only Justine knows it.

In Part Two "Claire" Claire and John, their young son Leo (Cameron Spurr) and Justine await their rendezvous with Melancholia a previously unknown planet that is traveling across the inner solar system on a path that will take it perilously close to Earth.

John, a stargazer, is looking forward to the cosmic visitation. Claire isn't sure what to think but accepts John's opinion that Melancholia will pass by harmlessly. Justine, by now deep into depression, sees the arrival of the eponymously named planet as vindication of her innermost fears that perhaps humanity is beyond redemption.

Kirsten Dunst deserves a Best Actress nomination and Charlotte Gainsbourg is equally impressive in a role almost as important. There's great chemistry between these two terrific actresses with outstanding work by cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro.

Interesting footnotes to this film include the use of the name Justine the titled character in a novel by the Marquis de Sade. Sade's Justine is an unfortunate girl who suffers at the hands of hypocrites who pretend to be virtuous and ends up giving up on humanity and its delusions of morality. Reportedly director Lars von Trier has endured bouts of depression and the story of Melancholia appealed to him as a means of demonstrating how someone afflicted with depression would deal with an end-of-the-world scenario. Richard Wagner's haunting score from Tristan and Isolde is the perfect musical accompaniment for this story.

Melancholia is a cinema triumph. A truly remarkable motion picture.