Monday, October 3, 2011

Day 4 NYFF: 'Melancholia' and 'Mud and 'Soldiers'

Kirsten Dunst as a bride who is not happy about the life ahead in "Melancholia." Photos courtesy of the 49th New York Film Festival.

JUSTINE (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are two sisters who could not be more different but whose love for each other is unshakeable.

It is on their relationship that Lars von Trier’s ethereal “Melancholia” turns. The film makes its North American premiere today at the 49th New York Film Festival. It is one of several films in the festival that has an end-of-the-world theme.

Melancholia of the title is both a planet near the sun that threatens all known life and an apt characterization of the condition afflicting Justine. It opens with a dreamlike sequence featuring Justine that morphs into her motoring to her wedding reception with her groom, Michael (“True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgard comporting himself competently).

From the start things seem off-center as the newlyweds’ hired car gets stuck in the mud and each replaces the driver at the wheel in an attempt to free the vehicle. When they finally arrive at the lavish reception financed by Claire and her harried husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), at a swanky private club with a golf course and stables, they are about four hours late. Though she has kept her guests waiting, an oblivious Justine insists on introducing Michael to her horse. Incredibly, guests appear to have been awaiting their arrival with congenial patience. (See video below).

Doom is palpable, and Justine is hanging on by the flimsiest of threads. It is rather obvious that this marriage will not survive the reception. The only question is how will it end. KD, who won the best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is transportive and gives a transcendent performance as a bride who is out of it. She’s all vacant stares and empty smiles, gading about the reception, grounds and main house as if she has smoked the best hashish or marijuana on earth. All the while the planet, Melancholia, is threatening to burst from behind the sun and take everyone with it. This latter event unsettles Claire.

“Melancholia” can be viewed as two films in one. The first is about the destruction of a marriage caused by a woman’s uncontrollable demons within. The second is about the destruction of the planet and the outward anxiety and helplessness of woman in the face of it. In Part 1, Claire is the rock that gets Justine through a wedding reception that she cannot otherwise bear. Justine in the second part provides some comfort for an inconsolable Claire.

KD's Justine is utterly believable as a woman who can’t face her own fate but in her quiet way helps her beloved sister to do so. CG doesn’t fair as well. Claire has it so together in the first part of the film that it is difficult to accept that she is coming wholly undone later on. Her disquiet is not resonant. Still, hers is a strong performance to a large degree because she has such a commanding countenance. She effortlessly conveys a plethora of emotions with a cocked head or open stare.

Tomotaka Takasa's "Mud and Soldiers" (1939) is one of 37 films in "Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses: Celebrating the Nikkatsu Centennial."

LvT (“Dogville”) has assembles a strong cast for his latest out-there piece of filmmaking. KS delivers an acceptable performance but is terribly miscast as Claire’s slightly uptight husband. John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling, however are sublime in small roles as the womens’ over-the-top, dysfunctional parents.

Other screenings today at NYFF include “Capricious Young Man,” “Susan Orlean: Rin Tin Tin, the Life and the Legend,” “George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” and “Mud and Soldiers.”

Visit to learn more about the 49th New York Film Festival: including schedule, repeat screenings, ticket and venue information.

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