Lars von Trier’s follow-up to the beautiful-turned-ugly world of “Antichrist” starts off with what some who have lived through the experience might view as even more painful than the genital mutilation of the preceding film: a wedding, a parade of family putting on smiles and making deals with each other, and a sense that a key figure really isn’t there.
In the beginning of “Melancholia”, Alexander Skarsgård looks dotingly upon his bride, Kirsten Dunst, as he steps out on a country road to assist a driver who has no clue how to navigate a stretch limo around a country-road bend. The loving visage in return is an illusion to those who know. The fracture already shows between the two.
“The difference is: I’m enjoying this moment,” reflects Skarsgård – best known over these shores lately for his cast status on TV’s “True Blood” – in a downtown hotel during the week of the “Melancholia” premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “I’m happy. And she’s trying to be happy. She’s kind of faking it. She’s really, really trying to be excited about this day and really feel happiness. And what’s heartbreaking is, I think [groom] Michael can kind of sense that, and he believes that it’ll be all right. ‘I’ll take care of her. I’ll make her feel better. I can change things. She’s struggling, and I can tell. That’s fine. But just let me hold you, and it’ll be fine.’”
“Melancholia” is, though, an extraordinarily beautiful piece of work from von Trier, a film-maker of his own pace and passion who has weathered controversy, critical bafflement and ups and downs among his faithful in a career that has also encompassed singer Björk as a condemned killer in the bleak semi-musical “Dancer in the Dark” and the tough deal worked out by a hiding Nicole Kidman in “Dogville”.
Skarsgård, whose father Stellan is a long-time von Trier rep player – the elder plays Jack, a bit of a two-faced boss who tries to continually manipulate bride Justine in “Melancholia” – is among the legions of actors who will give up other comforts and opportunities for a chance to work with the Danish master.
“Of course, it’s just a dream,” the younger of the pair says, “because it’s as close to stage acting as you can get in front of a camera. Like, the whole ballroom scene: We would shoot that, and he would run around like crazy. And the team, the boom operator and everyone was kind of behind it, running as a tail as he was running around. Capturing things 360 in the room. And you start a take, and the camera’s 20 feet away. And then you start with the dialogue, and the camera is right in your face. And then it’s gone.
“And you’ll do it again, and he’ll find something else that time. Of course, it can be difficult to go back to working with a director who doesn’t have that charisma or that strong of a vision. Or even traditional film-making of hitting your mark and finding the light and all that. It’s a different kind of way of working, for sure.”
As with many of von Trier’s films, “Melancholia” unfolds in segments. In this case, there are two halves: the painful process of the wedding between Michael and Justine, and people trying to figure out what and what not to say; a lush doomsday scenario in which Dunst is encamped with her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, one of the leads in “Antichrist”) and brother-in-law John (a finely nuanced, spot-on Kiefer Sutherland) on a rich and rolling green of country property in both fascination and fear of a wayward planet – the eponymous star of “Melancholia” – due to pass very close to the Earth.
The prospect of planet Melancholia’s pass-by grips the three, along with Claire and John’s son, in a family of unresolved conflict forced to the front, a restructuring of the definition of home, fright when considering the future and the past, and, ultimately, love.
“They’re all in a shelter with loved ones,” Skarsgård says, discussing hopes held out for all the characters in the ensemble film. “Yeah. Lars has said that himself – that ‘It’s my first movie with a happy ending.’ You know? And it’s about the end of the world!”
For those who find their way through “Melancholia” – and it truly has to be seen to be believed – it might, at first, seem somewhat perverse to call the sum of the parts beautiful. But it is that, a glorious experience.
“And there is, without giving away too much – for people who haven’t seen the movie – that, in a weird way, it’s almost a happy ending, because you have that brief connection between the sisters,” Skarsgård says. “It’s such a subtle thing. But for me, watching it – since I’m not in that sequence – I could actually watch it.
“Usually, when I watch something I’m in, it makes me feel kind of uncomfortable. I dissect my own performance in the movie and I get self-critical. And I’m like ‘Oh, they chose that take instead of that take. Why?’ ‘Oh, God. That was way too big. I should have brought it down. I should have changed that.’ But watching the end, I could watch it and feel it emotionally register or not, because I’m not in it. To me, it was just so powerful. That one connection – that one little touch at the end – made me feel good, in a weird way.”
SOURCE: MSN Entertainment
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