This film came so close to being amazing. It spent two hours teetering on the edge of brilliance, and never took the plunge.
Melancholia is split into two parts: Part 1 reveals the character of Justine (Dunst), starting with the early joy and laughter as she arrives at her wedding reception, the film gets steadily darker as details about Justine’s dysfunctional family seep out and we are made aware of Justine’s near permanent state of melancholy.
Part 2 is set a few weeks later as Justine’s sister Claire (Gainsbourg) takes Justine in now that she’s in the full depths of depression.
Meanwhile a recently discovered, giant rogue planet named Melancholia is on a course to pass quite close to earth. Despite Claire’s husband’s (Sutherland) reassurances, Claire is worried that the planet will hit earth.
It’s a wonderfully high minded concept, exploring one of the most ambiguous of human emotions against the backdrop of epic fantasy science fiction, infused with a sense of doom.
The experience of melancholy is wonderfully well blended with the pacing of the film and Kirsten Dunst deserved her Best Actress win in Cannes for her portrayal of the emotion, unfortunately the emotional bewilderment leads to Justine acting in a manner which leaves her as an extremely unlikable character by the mid-way point. After that point she becomes a complete enigma, on some levels she seems to have some sort of connection to the planet. She becomes more and more lost to us as the planet nears.
This enigma coupled with the sense of doom experienced by Claire should be where this film turns into a work of art of the highest order, but like a person feeling melancholic, the film doesn’t quite know what to do with it.
The opening sequence shows a series of excellent and artistic shots of the goings on of the cast and the motions of the planets. Watching the sequence is akin to watching an oil painted and moving masterpiece, the level of artistry is impressive, but the core idea of the work is never fully communicated.
This film is the very definition of unreached potential, but it comes damn close.