Posts Tagged ‘Melancholia’

1) THE TREE OF LIFE (DIR. TERRENCE MALICK) – USA

A confession– I had been waiting for years for Terrence Malick’s new film to come out, listening out intently for snippets of information on its long production. So forgive my bias, but there is simply no other contender for film of the year. In all honesty ToL is not a perfect film. Some scenes work, some scenes don’t. But when they do work, they soar. I’d take 20 minutes of some scenes from ToL over the whole year in cinema. Pitt and Chastain perfectly convey the complexities of parenthood, while the young boys are a revelation. Lubezki’s roaming camera combined with the beautifully operatic classical pieces is utterly glorious. Malick’s most personal, sincere and adventurous film to date.

2) WUTHERING HEIGHTS (DIR. ANDREA ARNOLD) – UK

Scottish auteur Arnold updates the classic Bronte novel with hyper real cinematography and naturalistic performances. The young Cathy and Heathcliff are excellent as the bruised lovers, while the Yorkshire valleys take on a wild, oppressive life of their own. One of the few British films to use the landscape in a refreshing and exciting way.

3) SLEEPING SICKNESS (DIR. ULRICH KOHLER) – GERMANY & CAMEROON

This beguiling odditiy comes across as a mix of Claire Denis, Uncle Boonmee and David Lynch, combining jungle environment with hallucinatory, surreal touches. A German doctor is working in an unnamed African hospital, where he deals with the ‘Sleeping sickness’ bug, a condition that makes the sufferer feverish and hallucinate. His family have to leave the country without him, and then things start to get weirder on his own…

4) TRUE GRIT (DIR. THE COEN BROS) – US

The Coen’s are so consistently good, it’s almost boring. Here they turn their meticulous hands to full on western, and master the genre in one fell swoop. A remake of Henry Hathaway’s original, the brothers stick to a more traditional approach, harking back to the classic Westerns of the 40’s and 50’s, but with a few of their own surreal touches for good measure. Jeff Bridges seems to be one of the few leading actors of the 70’s not to have settled into semi –retirement, and is a wizened joy here.

5) NORWEGIAN WOOD (DIR. ANH HUNG TRAN )– JAPAN

Based on Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s 60’s set doomed romance, Vietnamese director brings an exquisite visual style to the books foundations. Garnering only luke warm reviews, this is for me one of the more underrated films of the year. Taking his cues from his earlier films, Hung Tran combines lush, sensual cinematography with subtle, restrained emotions. On top of that, it has an excellent soundtrack featuring CAN and The Velvet Underground.

6) SENNA (DIR. ASIF KAPADIA)– UK

Painstakingly compiled from endless hours of footage, Kapadia’s documentary of the golden F1 driver Ayrton Senna introduces a whole new legion of fans to a sport they thought they hated. Or at least for a couple of hours or so he does, anyway. Made up of grainy interviews and races, with only voiceover to compliment them, the film takes on a hypnotic, compelling quality as we follow the charismatic Senna through his highs and lows.

7) MARGARET (DIR. KENNETH LONERGAN)– USA

Kenneth Lonergan’s long gestating follow up to indie hit You Can Count On Me was riddled with studio and editing troubles, and on it’s eventual release it almost went unnoticed. Thankfully a few major critics rallied around it and it looks like it has at least cult appeal. Following a brattish New York teenager, played by Anna Paquin, as her life is turned upside down by a shocking road accident. Regarded as a response to the confusion 9/11 brought to American life, Margaret is a raw, sprawling drama that leaves the audience to work out their own point of view.

8) BIUTIFUL (DIR. ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU) – SPAIN

There was a sense that Inarritu was starting to get ahead of himself, with the bloated Babel and the split with writer Arriagas, but with Biutiful the director has gone back to basics. Anchored by a towering, moving performance from Javier Bardem as a people tracker who starts to have a change of heart. Inarritu shows a side of Barcelona that the tourists won’t see.

9) MELANCHOLIA (DIR. LARS VON TRIER) – SWEDEN & DENMARK

Based on Lars Von Trier’s own struggles with depression, this unusual, elegant film is an effective distortion of the Hollywood disaster movie. Kirsten Dunst plays a bride to be in the midst of the illness, and sees a kinship with the hovering blue planet Melancholia that threatens to engulf the world. The lush visuals and subtle performances elevate this above your standard apocalypse film.

10) CONFESSIONS (DIR. TETSUYA NAKASHIMA)– JAPAN

A fairly low key release this year, this Japanese film was a strange mixture of high school drama, thriller and who dunnit. A teachers child is killed by one of her students, and like Battle Royale, the adults end up having the last laugh. Multiple view points tell the story, and the film is notable for its inventive, playful visual style and soundtrack featuring the XX and Radiohead.

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Melancholia begins with a series of slow motion, ethereal scenes of an apocalypse enveloping the main characters. It is one of the most striking openings you’ll see in a cinema this year, or any other. A ghostly bride is imprisoned by grey flowing threads shackling her ankles. A young boy is cradled by his mother as their feet sink and merge into a golf course like quicksand. A black horse collapses in on itself in front of our very eyes.

Director Lars Von Trier sets the tone for this unusual film, a beguiling mix of disaster movie ala Deep Impact and a psychological drama by Ingmar Bergman. The film is set in a large country house in picturesque grounds by the sea. Guests are gathered together for the wedding rehearsal of a young couple, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), organised by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and husband John (Kiefer Sutherland).

Quickly the film morphs into Festen territory at the rehearsal, as cracks begin to show in the family. Justine’s mother (Charlotte Rampling) decries her disgust for marriage, and the presence of her ex-husband (John Hurt) does little to help matters. Meanwhile John and Claire struggle to understand Justine’s erratic mood swings in the midst of their precious arrangements. Justine, we learn is descending into a deep depression, yet finds an odd kinship with an encroaching pale blue planet, aptly titled Melancholia.

This enigmatic, ominous planet occupies a shadowy presence in the film. As Justine’s condition worsens, Melancholia journeys nearer to it’s collision with earth. It is an excellent, effective metaphor for depression, a silent force that takes hold over the victim. Some viewers have argued that Melancholia is a vacuous exercise in prettiness, a work of self indulgence by Von Trier. Yet when you take into account Von Trier’s own vocal struggle with depression, it seems more likely that the elegant, lush visuals only serve to cushion the rawness of Von Trier’s message. Like a Morrissey lyric, Melancholia coats the razor sharp bitterness with beauty.

At first I had my reservations in Dunst’s abilities in conveying such a complex emotional state. However, she has an icy, distant quality which lends itself surprisingly well to a condition that is often elusive and difficult to gage on the surface. The supporting cast are all very good, a mixture of narcissism and misunderstanding permeating through the characters. Gainsbourg in particular radiates existential fret and sisterly anxiety to great effect.

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