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Melancholia

25 Apr

Melancholia – directed by Lars von Trier. Drama. Two sisters faced with their own futility also face the end of the world. 130 minutes. Color 2011.

★★★

An artist must be judged by the atmospheric conditions he himself creates. So that looking at this story, one is at a loss to place one’s compassion on the spectacular catastrophe of the end of the world which it gives us and in the beauty of the aura surrounding that, because no one inside the aura of the piece and whom the aura sets off is human enough to warrant our care. Neither actress possesses intrinsic interest. They want words; they want temperament. Who hired them?

In terms of what they do as actors, we can see them as competent, but there is no special value in either to allow them to stand for all humans about to collide with the great finality. They are flat. They are ordinary. They lack even the interest of simplicity. They lack even the charm of children, as does their child, a numb little boy. No matter how technically proficient they may be, and these two women are proficient indeed, actors in starring roles must stand out on the basis of who they are before they are positioned. Stars gleam; these two do not. Technical proficiency is nice, but, in fact, is not even a minimum standard for stardom. And here, especially, we must see them as special when they are in competition for our very interest with two planets colliding.

Indeed, even on the grounds of technique, we are faced with an inexplicable inadequacy. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s and Kristin Dunst’s parents are played by John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling. But Dunst plays with a flat American accent. If the idea is to present her as without liaison with her family, it is an irrelevant maneuver. For Kiefer Sutherland, who is superb and right, also speaks with his native accent, which might be understandable because he married into this family. The problem is not whether they relate to one another but whether we relate to any of them. But because of the language disparity there is too much sorting out who is related to whom. I don’t know whether Dunst does not have the technical prowess or does not have the energy to speak the Queen’s English, but it does not matter that I rather suspect the latter, because either way the flaw is fatal.

Likewise, they all seem to live together in a big ugly palace – or do they? – for none of them relate to it as a familiar milieu. First you think it is a golf club? Or is it a country hotel? Or a former mansion on hire? So the actors fail to bring us into human relationship with the loss of an Eden because they themselves do not belong in it. We never feel this is their house, their home. It is a failure of acting technique. Eden must be not just exquisite but exquisite to those who are to lose it.

The director’s desire was to present the nature of depression, because it is a state he himself has known. This is justifiable. This is done well. It is well filmed. The story is there, although the script is underwritten. Underwriting is always a form of overwriting, which is why its simplicity always looks pretentious. But never mind. His job is still to make sure the actors come alive in the piece. They don’t. They are adequate. But Adequate is always inadequate, is it not?

Von Trier’s films are heavily influenced by Tarkovsky. They are empty and inert. See Tarkovsky instead.

 
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