‘Melancholia’: It gets better

IN "MELANCHOLIA," Lars von Trier has made the wedding movie to end all wedding movies, a description that's more literal than you can imagine.

It's most definitely not a romantic comedy, not a date movie, and very much in step with von Trier's recent output, which is to say that its view of human behavior is pessimistic in the extreme.

The movie comes in two parts. Part one is the wedding, hosted by a well-to-do man (Kiefer Sutherland) on his fabulous estate for the benefit of the depression-prone bride and future sister-in-law (Kirsten Dunst, who won the Cannes best actress award for her performance).

It's perversely funny, in a way, to watch von Trier turn wedding movie rom-com boilerplate into something quiveringly misanthropic. The bride's mom (Charlotte Rampling) and dad (John Hurt), for instance, aren't comically estranged - they really hate each other, and say so during champagne toasts to bitterness, betrayal, unhappiness.

There are also wedding day sexual high jinks, but they're compulsive and destructive, some distant cousins to what the director showed us in "Breaking The Waves."

What's truly weird is that in the midst of all this misery, von Trier actually tosses in the cliché of the effeminate wedding planner, Udo Kier, who is very funny.

Still, all in all, this stretch of "Melancholia" feels like pretty much the worst time you can have at the movies - von Trier's modus operandi dating to "Dogville."

And yet, if you can stand it, "Melancholia" pivots drastically at its midpoint, and becomes something else, something far more watchable.

It develops into an effective horror movie, during which we learn that "Melancholia" is the name of a planet that suddenly appears in the solar system, one that may or may not be on a collision course with Earth.

At the family's posh estate, the family (including Charlotte Gainsbourg) watches the planet grow larger in the sky, and slowly succumbs to a gathering sense of dread.

It has the mood of Poe, "House of Usher" or "Masque of the Red Death," but von Trier has foreshadowed his horror movie with a wildly expressionist prologue that links Dunst's character with the natural world, her depression with an intimation that something is threatening Mother Earth.

It's like the hopeless, nihilistic counterpoint to Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life."


Directed by Lars von Trier. With Charlotte Rampling, Brady Corbet, John Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland, Udo Kier, Alexander Skarsgård, Kirsten Dunst. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for some graphic nudity, sexual content and language).