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Cannes: Melancholia Raves Overshadowed by Von Trier Tempest; Scorsese's Five Obstructions

by Anne Thompson
May 18, 2011 10:08 AM
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You can count on Denmark's puckish auteur Lars von Trier to deliver the goods in Cannes, having shown 12 films here since 1984, from grand prix winner Breaking the Waves (which also starred Stellan Skarsgard) and The Idiots to Manderlay, Palme d'Or-winner Dancer in the Dark and The Antichrist, starring actress winner Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The consummate filmmaker (with a fear of flying) made his usual camping car pilgrimage to the Cannes Film Festival. Well, having recovered from depression with The Antichrist, von Trier is now back in top form with Melancholia, which won enthusiastic applause at the press screening Wednesday morning (review sampling is below) and was a strong contender for the Palme d'Or--until the impish director put both feet in his mouth at the press conference. He was in a good mood, and making jokes.

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Folks were shrugging off his comments about Kirsten Dunst and Gainsbourg wanting to make a porn film--or how much Dunst liked posing in the nude, which she does magnificently here. Dunst can be forgiven for being upset with von Trier, because she gives a powerful comeback performance as a young ad exec hoping that a lavish family wedding will throw off her depression--but her relatives and callow husband throw her back into the emotional abyss. Von trier praised her performance, especially her eyes, saying that she understood the illness, having experienced it herself. "For me it's not so much a film about the end of the world as a film about a state of mind," he said. "I have been through some melancholia states in my life." Gainsbourg said that she had played von Trier in Antichrist and that Dunst was playing him in this film. "There's no separation between himself and his female characters."

Dunst, who had praised the director for writing such "incredible parts for women," and making her feel "the most intimate and vulnerable I've ever felt"...he makes his actors "emotionally available and ready for anything" tried to get von Trier to stop making various statements about whether or not he was Jewish, how Israel is a pain in the ass, or how he's a German and understands the Nazis and Hitler and feels some sympathy for him and Albert Speer. Even von Trier knew he was digging a self-destructive hole for himself --"can I get out of this question?"--and later apologized.

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Press reception Wednesday morning was largely positive to Melancholia, which boasts a stunning, surreal, digitally-altered, slo-mo prologue set in an elaborate castle and gardens right out of Marienbad, referencing everything from the pre-Raphaelite Lady of Shalot to Wagner's soaring Tristan and Isolde, and brooks comparison not only to the examination of nature and survival in The Tree of Life and Sundance entries Take Shelter, which is playing in the Quinzaine and also deals with mental illness and nature gone wrong (and dead falling birds), and non-Cannes film Another Earth, which also puts in the sky a potentially dangerous alternate planet. But predictably, the media ran with the ball, reporting the self-destructive stupid things von Trier said, and overshadowing the film itself, which deserves to be considered seriously on its own merits.

Next up: von Trier has lined up Martin Scorsese as his next cinematic adversary for a sequel to Five Obstructions. As he did the last time, Von Trier will assign the director the task of remaking a scene from one of his movies five times with different impediments.

Reviews and trailer are below: "Supremely Operating, Astonishing, Decadent, A Bit of A Bore."

Eric Kohn, indieWIRE:

"Nothing in Melancholia can match the dazzling momentum of its opening sequence, which has the visual splendor of expressionistic sci-fi and the refined look of a morbid fashion commercial…The greatest possible expression of Von Trier’s recent 'no more happy endings' edict, Melancholia is supremely operatic, enlivened by its cosmic sensibility, and yet amazingly rendered on an intimate scale. Beyond its opening and closing minutes, the movie’s appeal mainly comes from its fine-tuned performances, each of which adds to the developing sense of dread."

Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW:

"although Melancholia, by its very title, declares a mournful state of mind, the movie is, in fact, the work of a man whose slow emergence from personal crisis has resulted in a moving masterpiece, marked by an astonishing profundity of vision…The result is a movie acutely attuned to feelings of despair that nevertheless leaves the viewer in a state of ecstasy."
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Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

"If Melancholia had been conceived with real passion or imagination, or if it had been well written or convincingly acted in any way at all, it might have been a loopy masterpiece…Once again, Von Trier has written and directed an entire film in his trademark smirk mode: a giggling aria of pretend pain and faux rapture. The script is clunking, and poor Dunst joins Nicole Kidman and Bryce Dallas Howard in the list of Hollywood females who have sleepwalked trustingly through a Von Trier production."

Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline:

"It’s gorgeous to look at, deeply moody and atmospheric, and it’s always in on its own grim little joke…These are somber, glorious images: They incite both dread and shivery anticipation — the effect is that of gazing deep into the sugar Easter Egg of doom. What, exactly, is von Trier trying to say here? Antichrist was a scream of pain; Melancholia is more like a heavy sigh, a gasp at the horrible wonder of it all. It isn’t nearly as somber as its title would lead you to believe, and it’s so beautiful to look at that it feels decadent, almost luxurious."

Todd McCarthy, THR:

"Lars von Trier manages to turn the end of the world into a bit of a bore in Melancholia…In the end, then, Melancholia would seem to have two purposes: To express the state of deep depression the director has so often described his being in for the last several years, and to articulate his non-belief in anything beyond our temporal presence on this rock."

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Melancholia from Zentropa on Vimeo.

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