Melancholia” – Lars Von Trier

When NASA launched the first of its Voy­ager mis­sions in 1977 they sent it into space with a vinyl record pro­duced to give alien life an idea of what man was capa­ble of in the 20th cen­tu­ry. The music they chose stretched from Bach and Beethoven to John­ny B Goode, and offered a cross sec­tion of world music that ranged from Aus­tralia to Zaire. There was no need of course. If you want to demon­strate the depth of feel­ing and sheer vis­cer­al force that music is capa­ble of gen­er­at­ing and offer it up to the heav­ens as evi­dence for what life is capa­ble of, there is only one piece of music you need ever con­ceiv­ably con­sid­er. Wagner’s Tris­tan.

The music that Lars Von Tri­er drowns his lat­est offer­ing Melan­cho­lia in, is quite the best thing about it. It’s drenched in the pre­lude to Tris­tan. And in fair­ness to Tri­er, he makes con­sid­er­ably bet­ter use of Wag­n­er than Ter­rence Mal­ick did in The New World, which the lat­ter made before the sim­i­lar­ly apoc­a­lyp­tic The Tree of Life (see below), both of which screened at Cannes last year. Tri­er though is an infi­nite­ly supe­ri­or crafts­man. And for the open­ing ten min­utes or so, he treats us to the same daz­zling tech­ni­cal bril­liance that he gave us at the begin­ning of Antichrist in 2009, and through­out much of Europa in 1994 and Break­ing The Waves in 1996.

As with Antichrist though, what fol­lows is two hours of un-remit­ting tedi­um. This time around we get to spend them in the com­pa­ny of two neu­rot­ic women who have their own par­tic­u­lar melt-downs, as once again Tri­er resorts to that twitchy, hand-held mode that was so invig­o­rat­ing in The King­dom in 1994, but feels so tired near­ly two decades on. The first half sees Kirsten Dun­st gen­tly implode at her own wed­ding, the sec­ond has her sis­ter, Char­lotte Gains­bourg slow­ly fall to pieces as the plan­et Melan­cho­lia hur­tles inex­orably into our own.

The prob­lem is, the peo­ple who inhab­it the world that Tri­er looks down on are all so thor­ough­ly un-lik­able. He sees the world through the same misog­y­nis­tic spec­ta­cles that his fel­low Scan­di­na­vian Lukas Moodys­son views them through. And although the guests at the wed­ding that Tri­er gives us are none of them quite as plain­ly unpleas­ant as the char­ac­ters who inhab­it, say, Lilya 4‑Ever, nei­ther is there any of the joy or mis­chief you get in Altman’s A Wed­ding.

Trier’s defence is both gen­uine and disin­gen­u­ous. What­ev­er you might think about my atti­tude toward my char­ac­ters, it’s noth­ing com­pared to the loathing I feel for myself. So all of his pro­tag­o­nists are female to give him the dis­tance he needs to be able to vent what he sees as self-crit­i­cism. Hence the appalling treat­ment of all of his lead­ing actress­es. But you can’t excuse your treat­ment of oth­ers on the basis that you’re even harsh­er on your­self. That’s not a con­di­tion. That’s just wil­ful myopia.

As every par­ent knows, that’s just the way I am is not an expla­na­tion, it’s just an excuse. Ulti­mate­ly, Tri­er real­ly is the enfant ter­ri­ble of Dan­ish cin­e­ma, and lit­tle else beside. He’s a daz­zling­ly bright child, and the idea of express­ing the state of melan­cho­lia imag­is­ti­cal­ly, as a near­by plan­et hurtling head­long towards us real­ly is a bril­liant one. But he ruins it all by refus­ing to look up and around him to see any­one else in the room.

Speak Your Mind