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Justine (Kirsten Dunst) faces the end of the world in Lars von Trier’s dazzling MELANCHOLIA

MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier, 2011)
MoMA Film
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Thursday, December 29, 8:00
Series runs through January 26
Tickets: $12, in person only, may be applied to museum admission within thirty days, same-day screenings free with museum admission, available at Film and Media Desk beginning at 9:30 am

Danish writer-director Lars von Trier has nothing less than the end of the world on his mind in his latest controversial drama, Melancholia. Von Trier’s latest love-it-or-hate-it cinematic foray opens with epic Kubrickian grandeur, introducing characters in marvelously composed slow-motion and still shots (courtesy of cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro) as an apocalyptic collision threatens the earth and a Wagner overture dominates the soundtrack. Kirsten Dunst won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her portrayal of Justine, a seemingly carefree young woman celebrating her wedding day who soon turns out to be battling a debilitating mental illness. Her husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), is madly in love with her and does not know quite what he has gotten himself into, especially as the partying continues and Justine’s motley crew of family and friends get caught up in various forms of intrigue, including Gaby, her marriage-hating mother (Charlotte Rampling), Dexter, her never serious father (John Hurt), Jack, her pompous boss (Stellan Skarsgård), Claire, her married sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Claire’s filthy rich husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), who is hosting the event at his massive waterfront estate. While most of the film focuses on the wildly unpredictable Justine, the latter section turns its attention on Claire, who is terrified that a newly discovered planet named Melancholia is on its way to destroy the world. But Melancholia is not just about sadness, depression, family dysfunction, and the end of the world. It’s about the search for real love and truth, things that are disappearing from the earth by the minute. Justine works as an advertising copywriter, attaching tag lines to photographs to help sell product; at the wedding, Jack is determined to get one more great line of copy from her, even siccing his young, inexperienced nephew, Tim (Brady Corbet), on her to make sure she delivers. But what she ends up delivering is not what either man expected. Perhaps the only character who really sees what is going on is a wedding planner played by the great Udo Kier, who continually, and comically, shields his eyes from Justine, unable to watch the impending disaster. Just as in the film, as some characters get out their telescopes to watch the approaching planet and others refuse to look, there are sure to be many in the moviegoing public who will shield their eyes from Melancholia, choosing not to view yet another controversial film from a director who likes to antagonize his audience. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Melancholia is screening December 29 at the Museum of Modern Art as part of MoMA’s “The Contenders 2011” series, which focuses on either underlooked films and/or those that MoMA believes will stand the test of time. The series continues through January 26 with such works as J. C. Chandor’s Margin Call, Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs, and Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre.

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