The end of the world couldn’t come a moment too soon for me in Lars von Trier’s new movie Melancholia, which I saw this afternoon.
Opinion about the film, which deservedly won the best actress award for its star Kirsten Dunst at Cannes this year, has split the critics.
“Melancholia is so stupendous, imaginative, weird, and outlandish that it rearranges the contents of your soul,” wrote Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times.
But I’m with Philip French of The Observer, who found “The movie is heavy, though without weight or gravitas – a solipsistic, narcissistic, inhuman affair.”
The planet Melancholia is heading earthwards as the mentally fragile Dunst attends her wedding reception at a remote and lavish castle.
The stellar cast includes Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland as her sister and brother-in-law and John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling as her divorced and still warring parents.
Gainsbourg, who gets to keep her kit on unlike in von Trier’s last movie Antichrist (where he cynically courted controversy with scenes of genital mutilation), is first rate.
The same can be said of the film's images – when von Trier cuts out his gimmicky hand-held jerky camera effects. The CGI, the helicopter shots are impressive. The scene of the naked Dunst bathing in Melancholia-light is at once beautiful and magical. The music – Wagner – is almost as splendid as in 2001.
There is every ingredient to make a great movie but for the fact despite his self-conscious cleverness von Trier – writer and director – has no heart. His observations are shallow and obvious.
One longs for the insight into human frailty of Bergman, the dark humour of Almodovar. What’s Peter Greenaway doing these days?
Melancholia was inspired by von Trier’s own depression. Perhaps its making was therapy for him; a prestige project for his actors; an opportunity for some critics to delight in the emperor’s new clothes. But for me the movie was a great disappointment.
Five minutes of The Incredible Shrinking Man has more intellectual worth than two hours of Melancholia.