Melancholia - Lars Von Trier's newest film

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Postby Big Magilla » Thu May 19, 2011 7:52 am

AP – David Germain, Ap Movie Writer – 21 mins ago

CANNES, France – Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier was condemned and declared "persona non
grata" Thursday by the Cannes Film Festival for saying that he sympathizes with Adolf Hitler.

A statement from Cannes organizers castigated von Trier for his comments a day earlier. It is an unprecedented move by the festival that bestowed its highest honor on the director's film "Dancer in the Dark" back in 2000.

Christine Aime, who heads the festival press office, said von Trier's current film, "Melancholia," remains in competition but that if it wins anything at Sunday's closing ceremony, von Trier "won't be there to receive the prize."

At a news conference for the film Wednesday, von Trier said in a rambling speech that he understood and sympathized with Hitler. He said afterward he had been joking and later issued an apology.

The festival statement said the Cannes board of directors "firmly condemns these comments and declares Lars von Trier a persona non grata at the festival."

The festival "provides artists from around the world with an exceptional forum to present their works and defend freedom of expression and creation," the statement said. The board "profoundly regrets that this forum has been used by Lars von Trier to express comments that are unacceptable, intolerable, and contrary to the ideals of humanity and generosity that preside over the very existence of the festival."

On Wednesday, von Trier told reporters at the "Melancholia" news conference that he had some compassion for Hitler.

"What can I say? I understand Hitler, but I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. But I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end," von Trier said. "He's not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him, and I sympathize with him a little bit. But come on, I'm not for the Second World War, and I'm not against Jews. ...

"I am very much for Jews. No, not too much, because Israel is a pain in the ass."

Von Trier went on to say he admired Hitler aide Albert Speer. The remarks came as von Trier discussed his German heritage.

In an interview afterward, von Trier said he had been joking and that the remarks had spilled out without any forethought.

"I don't have so much to say, so I kind of have to improvise a little and just to let the feelings I have kind of come out into words," von Trier told The Associated Press. "This whole Nazi thing, I don't know where it came from, but you spend a lot of time in Germany, you sometimes want to feel a little free and just talk about this (expletive), you know?"

Jewish groups condemned von Trier's remarks and quickly applauded the festival's measures against the director Thursday.

"This is a welcome action which declares to the world that the suffering of victims is not a fit subject for mockery or casual self-promotion," Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement. "The organizers of the Cannes film festival have eloquently taken a determined moral stand against cavalier expressions of hate and insensitivity to those brutalized by the Nazis — Jew and non-Jew."

Cast members of "Melancholia," including Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg and John Hurt, sat uncomfortably alongside von Trier as the director made his Hitler remarks. At one point, Dunst leaned over and whispered to von Trier, "Oh my God, this is terrible."

Dunst said in an interview later that von Trier was embarrassed by the remarks.

"He likes to run his mouth," Dunst said. "I think he dug himself in a deep hole today."

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Postby Sonic Youth » Wed May 18, 2011 12:49 pm

That's our Lars. Another Cannes press conference, another "bombshell". He wants so much to have an outrageous legacy - both in his films and his public persona - but he's banal instead.

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Postby Sabin » Wed May 18, 2011 11:53 am

Nah, he's fucking with us. He's already apologized. Von Trier lives for provocations. Also, it's worth noting that this is a Von Trier film that Lisa Schwarzbaum loves.

Lars von Trier Apologies For Controversial “Melancholia” Press Conference Comments
by Peter Knegt (Updated 46 minutes ago)

After this morning’s press conference for “Melancholia” quickly caused a spread of controversy on the Croisette and across the internet, Lars von Trier has offered a brief apology via an official Cannes press release. The release notes that the festival was “disturbed” by Trier’s comments, which included the following:

“I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was happy being a Jew, Then later I found out that I wasn’t a Jew. I really wanted to be, but found out I was really a Nazi because my family was German. I understand Hitler, but I definitely see some wrong things. I just think I understand the man. He’s not what I call a good guy. I’m not for the Second World War. I’m for Jews, well maybe except for the Israelis - sometimes they’re a problem…”

Check out a complete rundown of the press conference here, and the full press release below, which simply states that Trier felt “he let himself be egged on by a provocation.”:

The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the Festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments.

The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology.

The direction of the Festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier’s apology. The Festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects.

UPDATE: U.S. distributor Magnolia Pictures also sent around a release, which included an extended statement from von Trier:

In connection to the Melancholia conference this morning, Lars von Trier has the following statemen

“If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologize. I am not antisemitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a nazi.” - Lars von Trier.

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"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Postby OscarGuy » Wed May 18, 2011 10:08 am

Whatever is said about Melancholia will be diminished by von Trier's revelation that he's a Nazi. I don't know if it was a joke or not, but the press isn't playing it off like it's one.
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Postby Sonic Youth » Wed May 18, 2011 9:20 am

No outrage this time. Just dismissiveness.

Melancholia: Cannes 2011 Review
by Todd McCarthy
Hollywood Reporter

CANNES -- Lars von Trier manages to turn the end of the world into a bit of a bore in Melancholia. A brooding cross between The Celebration (Festen) and Armageddon drenched in the tragic romanticism of Richard Wagner, this contemplation of the planet’s demise predictably provides not an ounce of comfort or redemption, nor does it offer characters or ideas with which to meaningfully engage, just ample opportunity to wallow in some rapturous images, glorious music and a foul mood. Absent the deliberate provocations of Antichrist and some of the Danish contrarian’s other works, a middling commercial career seems in store.

Certainly the prelude offers enticements: Amplified by the darkly yearning strains of “Tristan und Isolde,” von Trier begins with a beautiful close-up of Kirsten Dunst’s face -- expressing what can only be described as pronounced melancholy — and follows with a slow progression of strikingly dramatic and often strange images -- of galactic phenomena, a golf course, some planets, the sun and moon, a dark horse falling, Dunst in repose -- climaxing with a literally shattering shot of the Earth breaking apart as it crashes into a much larger planet.

On a lighter note, we then see from above a white stretch limo laboriously attempting to negotiate a windy road leading to an estate where wedding dinner guests await the beautiful happy couple, Justine (Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skaarsgard). Thus begins the Celebration part of the story, as what by rights should be a merry occasion quickly turns into a nasty public exchange of recriminations between disaffected family members, including the bride’s daft father (John Hurt); bilious mother (Charlotte Rampling); brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland), the mansion’s owner, who can’t help pointing out how much money he’s spent on the bash, and egotistical boss (Stellan Skaarsgard). Through it all, Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) wages a losing battle of damage control.

With everyone decked out so elegantly and the scene bathed in rich golden hues bespeaking untold wealth, this introductory section has its moments (including some fleeting scene-stealing by Udo Kier as the harried event organizer). But too many elements don’t really ring true: That these swells can’t for a moment curtail their bad behavior, even for the sake of the couple; that Dunst and Gainsbourg, so entirely different in looks and accents, are supposed to be sisters; that Justine and her mother would retreat to take baths when it’s time to cut the cake and that, after she and her husband finally retire to their wedding bed, Justine slips out in her wedding dress and has sex with a dopey young guy in a sand trap.

A distinctly European privileged-class ennui envelops most of the characters, who, unlike their forebears from previous generations, can’t even manage to get through an evening with a degree of style and good manners. But Justine is much further off the deep end, in a mental category all to herself described by the title; she simply can’t be happy and, by dawn, her new husband has already left (as have all the guests), leaving her to take a beautifully rendered horseback gallop with her sister through the fog.

As Part One is called “Justine,” Part Two is entitled “Claire.” Indeed, Justine goes into profound withdrawal at this point, to the film’s detriment, as one is essentially left to observe the spectacle of Claire’s anxiety about the giant planet called Melancholia that may be on a collision course with Earth. Her husband, who has set up a telescope on the grounds and claims to be in touch with top scientists, insists humanity is not in danger; after all, Melancholia has managed to miss both Mercury and Venus on its surprise journey out from behind the sun and is destined to just do a “fly-by” of Earth.

But Claire correctly believes otherwise, that Melancholia is the iceberg to the Earth’s Titanic. Unlike on board that ship, however, there are no life rafts; nor is there a Bruce Willis to blow it apart before it hits; nor, as might by implied by The Tree of Life, another Cannes entry to contemplate the grand scope of things, is any state of exaltation or grace possible. For von Trier, there is no meaning, higher purpose or anything resembling Godliness, just obliteration and the void.

In the end, then, Melancholia would seem to have two purposes: To express the state of deep depression the director has so often described his being in for the last several years, and to articulate his non-belief in anything beyond our temporal presence on this rock.

In, and sometimes out of, her beautiful wedding dress, Dunst looks gravely beautiful here, although it is arguable that the emotions and state of mind she is meant to express seem more supplied for her than to come from within. Most of the other solid actors are largely straight-jacketed by the one-dimensional, occasionally inexplicable demands of their roles.

The Swedish estate where much of the film was shot provides a stupendously beautiful backdrop, which has been manicured, dressed and photographed to maximum decorousness. The numerous special effects shots possess the desired haunting effect. Von Trier’s advantageous use of Wagner here serves as a reminder that, several years ago, he agreed to direct a Ring cycle at Bayreuth, only to back out when push came to shove.
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Postby Sonic Youth » Wed May 18, 2011 8:01 am

Still awaiting McCarthy's inevitibly outraged review, assuming he was assigned to do it.

By Peter Debruge

It's the end of the world but also the start of something new for Lars von Trier, whose mind-blowing "Melancholia" offers perhaps the gentlest depiction of annihilation one could imagine from any director, much less the Danish provocateur. If "Antichrist" was the needle in the eye von Trier needed to shake a bout of pulverizing depression, then "Melancholia" serves as his unexpectedly lucid response, blending grand-scale Hollywood effects with intimate, femme-focused melodrama. Think "The Celebration" meets "Armageddon," a marketable combination that brings spectacle to the arthouse, sure to inspire discussion and debate in ways no studio-made disaster movie possibly could.

Whereas the last 15 years of von Trier's career have been characterized by a state of extreme agitation, going back at least as far as "Breaking the Waves," this latest endeavor preaches Zen-like acceptance in the face of mankind's potential extinction. This remarkable calm is perhaps the most shocking thing about a film in which much of the action centers on the dynamic between two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg, whose French accent is never explained), as a passing planet threatens to obliterate the earth.

"Melancholia" opens with an eight-minute overture set to Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde," featuring a series of surreal tableaux -- stunning, digitally retouched shots that echo the dreamlike compositions of American photographer Gregory Crewdson: Justine looking impassive amid a shower of dead birds, trudging through a dark forest in her wedding dress, floating Ophelia-like in a murky pond and reaching out as flames of electricity dance across her fingertips. Intercut with these indelible supernatural images are stellar visions in which the visiting planet (which von Trier has cheekily christened Melancholia) approaches and ultimately collides with earth in a wall-rattling, seat-shaking thunder.

While disorienting, the sequence certainly gets us thinking in grand, cosmic terms. Cut to Justine and her newlywed husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), trying to reach their own wedding party, as the chauffeur struggles to navigate their stretch limo up the winding driveway of her brother-in-law's palatial mansion. The shooting style, so carefully controlled throughout the opening montage, immediately reverts to the more disorienting handheld approach von Trier employed in his Dogma 95 days, bringing a raw immediacy to the festivities.

After the couple arrives at the party, von Trier slowly reveals subtle tensions between the other family members, especially John Hurt and a wonderfully cantankerous Charlotte Rampling as the sisters' divorced parents. But these dynamics are little more than a diversion, temporarily distracting us from the fact that Justine is not at all the level-headed young lady she appears to be. As the evening wears on, Justine's behavior becomes increasingly abnormal, threatening to ruin the entire wedding. She's prone to anxieties, doubts and good, old-fashioned hysteria.

But unlike the damaged women von Trier has offered up in the past, Justine actually appears to be the character with whom the director most closely identifies. Her wedding could just as well be a film festival or any other stage in which the public expects von Trier to play the good puppet. (His post-"Melancholia" press conference at Cannes, where he told journos he understood Hitler, found the director back in his usual frisky humor.) Justine's character works in advertising -- that crassest of professions, presented here as an analogy for sell-out commercial filmmaking -- and her boss (Stellan Skarsgard) hovers constantly at the wedding, pressuring her to deliver a tagline like a wheedling producer demanding to know what the director's next project might be.

Justine has visions. "I know things," she tells Claire in the film's second half, which takes place a few weeks later, mere days before the two planets collide. Von Trier also knows things. Such is the Cassandra-like curse of the artist, who risks ridicule for daring to show the public what it doesn't wish to see -- in this case, a willingness to confront death and the very futility of our existence.

Yes, doomsday looms as a planet hurtles toward Earth, but as in all great science fiction, this fantastical premise allows the artist to play sociologist. In that respect, "Melancholia" takes a page from M. Night Shyamalan in that respect, using a blockbuster genre to study how a tight-knit family unit responds under an extreme set of conditions. Here, it is the seemingly unbalanced Justine who emerges as the film's strongest character, eclipsing her know-it-all brother-in-law, Jack (Kiefer Sutherland, whose smug expertise von Trier happily puts in its place, much as he checked Willem Dafoe's character in "Antichrist," only far less graphically).

For all the tyrannical disdain he's shown other filmmakers over the years, von Trier once again demonstrates a mastery of classical technique, extracting incredibly strong performances from his cast while serving up a sturdy blend of fly-on-the-wall naturalism and jaw-dropping visual effects. Given the film's high-concept premise, things could have been a lot different in the hands of another director, but with von Trier, it's just as Justine tells her exasperated spouse at the end of their chapter together: "What did you expect?"
"What the hell?"

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Postby Sonic Youth » Wed May 18, 2011 7:59 am

18 May, 2011 | By Lee Marshall

Dir/scr: Lars Von Trier. Denmark-Sweden-France-Germany. 2011. 135mins

The end of the world is nigh in Danish maverick Lars Von Trier’s long-awaited psychological disaster movie - and for all the film’s command of dark fairy-tale atmosphere it’s such a long and sluggish haul that many in the audience will find themselves cheering on the apocalypse. An authoritative performance by Kirsten Dunst (probably her best yet), a magnificent Wagnerian soundtrack, and effective use of the film’s otherworldly country-house location cannot disguise the fact that this is one of Von Trier’s most dramatically flaccid films to date.

For all the film’s widescreen panache, the script at the heart of the exercise feels like an uncooked avant-garde play. And yet some power remains nevertheless, as it did with Antichrist: Von Trier has become a stager of fears and anxieties, a sort of psychic circus master, and despite its faults, Melancholia lodges in the mind like a scary fable told by a strange uncle.

Pre-sold by Trust Nordisk to a raft of territories, with Magnolia releasing in the US, Melancholia will split the critics pretty much everywhere it opens, but it’s enough of an event to attract a wide arthouse crowd. It also has none of the horror turn-off (or turn-on) problems of Antichrist; there are even some laughs along the way this time round.

The film’s opening pre-title section is a standalone tone-poem, accompanied by the soaring, romantic Wagnerian orchestral theme (from the prelude to Tristan and Isolde) that will recur throughout. For eight minutes we are presented with a series of captivating symbolic tableaux shot with dreamlike clarity: birds falling dead from the sky around an expressionless Kirsten Dunst; Charlotte Gainsbourg trudging with a young boy in her arms through grass on a golf course that seems to have turned to quicksand, and other doom-laden augurs, which culminate in a magnificently visualised planetary collision.

Then it’s into the first of two narrative sections, which follows newly-wed Justine (Dunst) on her way from wedding to reception with her devoted new husband Michael (Alexander Skaarsgard). As they arrive at the historic country house hotel that belongs to Justine’s sister Claire (Gainsbourg) and her rich, irascible husband John (Sutherland), we begin to realise that not all is well with the new bride.

Though it’s never explicitly stated, her forced smiles and compulsion to wander away from the crowd - and her husband - make it clear that she’s suffering from depression, or melancholia. She gets little help from her parents - amiable flaneur father Dexter (Hurt) and bitter, misanthropic mother Gaby (Rampling), or from her manipulative advertising agency boss Jack (Stellen Skaarsgard), so it’s left to an increasingly irritated Claire to try to keep Justine on an even keel, and the wedding reception on track.

But Justine’s inner darkness overcomes her, and even Michael is pushed to abandon his new bride - though quite why this apparently patient and loving man would not stand by his woman is just one of several plot cruxes that we are simply forced to accept.

Part two, ‘Claire’, focuses on the more ostensibly together of the two sisters, but also fast-forwards the action some days (or weeks?). The arrival of an unknown ‘planet’ had been touched on allusively in the prologue and the film’s first section, but here it becomes a reality, and is given a name: Melancholia.

The setting is the same country house hotel - owned and run by Claire and John, it seems - where Gaby returns, in a near catatonic state of depression. But gradually, as Melancholia’s trajectory puts it on a collision course with earth, it’s Claire who lets her fears overcome her, while Justine gradually lights up, reaching a kind of serenity, and taking charge, as the world approaches meltdown.

The English dialogue is often stilted, for no good reason (“I’ve reached a conclusion in regard to the tagline” says Justine at one point). The director often seems to stifle his actors’ natural expression for his own mannerist ends - this is a film whose emotional heft lies as much in the musical soundtrack as in the performances.

And yet Melancholia’s imagining of a lonely, internalised apocalypse, experienced, in the end, only by Justine, Claire, Claire’s young son and the horses in the stables, in a big old country house isolated from the rest of the world, does build a weirdly memorable dreamscape, for all its faults of story, script and character.
"What the hell?"

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