Tuesday, November 22, 2011

bad "art"

Cannes, an annual filmic exposition living on dusty credentials, has a penchant for honoring movies and performances that eventually, inevitably, slide into oblivion by the time Oscar season rolls around.

This year, the festival showcased "Melancholia," a bit of addlepated provocation/pretension by Lars von Trier, who's described in some quarters as an enfant terrible of cinema - and who, complicitly, works to accomodate this pseudo-flattering profile by behaving that way.

Me? I see von Trier, who functions more as a poseur than an actual filmmaker, as a brilliant crackpot. That said, in "Melancholia," which runs about two hours longer than it should, he juxtaposes one person's immobilizing depression (apparently his own) with the end of the world as exacted by an angry planet named - ta-da! - Melancholia.

Kirsten Dunst, a pleasing but lightweight actress way in over her head here, is von Trier's on-screen surrogate as he works out his problems in a public forum. Not surprisingly, she won the best actress award at Cannes. Which means she won't be nominated for an Oscar. Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays Dunst's sister (even though they look nothing alike, not even remotely), is seemingly better as the seemingly well-balanced sibling.

Seemingly.

Thank heaven for a movie-saving Stellan Skarsgård, who enlivens the film's painfully prolonged opening wedding sequence with a performance that underlines that "Melancholia" isn't an art film but a parody of one.

Manuel Alberto Claro is responsible for the relentless hand-held camera work which doesn't so much capture the sensation of depression as it approximates what it feels like to be in hell.

45 comments:

Alex said...

This film is a masterwork! Get with it.

Carlye said...

I like movies a lot, too. This one I found incredibly boring. I have seen plenty of "art" movies. This doesn't qualify. Basically, what the characters mostly express in the 1st hour is ennui. Very dull. No feeling at all.

wwolfe said...

I agree with your assessment of Kirtsen Dunst's abilities. My hunch is that "Bring It On" may well be the movie that is seen to have best used her, when someone reviews her filmography some years from now.

a.n. said...

Like it or not. But anyone who even suggest that this movie is not a genuine piece of art, is out of their mind and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Kirsten Dunst is delievering a brilliant and honest performance. Surely her best to date and the one which will be remembered as time goes by.

Selena said...

I don't consider myself enough of a movie fan/critic to comment on whether it's art, but the handheld camerawork is literally nauseating. A waste of my money and whoever put up theirs to produce it.

alex nash said...

I used to be a film snob who loved arty films and poo pooed any one who didn't get it......

I saw this movie and I agree with the review. Lars Von Trier is painful to watch and this film is a slow torture. I don't think I will ever subject myself to another one of his movies! Call me mainstream I don't care but come on who gives a crap about some poor rich chick who hangs out in a castle and can't take a bath because she is too depressed. Her wedding? Poor girl she is so depressed she had to have a tryst with some unsuspecting dolt. Someone should have b slapped her silly!

Lastly, Dunst is not brilliant. If anyone deserves recognition for acting in this film it might be Charlotte Gainsbourg. She is interesting to look at and has some depth in her character.

Time would be better spend re-watching a christmas classic!

joe baltake said...

Alex! Well put, very well put. -J

g.w. said...

I'm not much of a Von Trier fan overall, but I was completely taken in and transported by this one, and was aware throughout that I was in "Von Trier Land," as some have put it.

One review I read said something about how in Von Trier Land he can make you realize that things could be worse than what you're experiencing in life...much worse. That made me laugh, and also fit the film in a lighthearted way.

I was surprisingly exhilarated rather than depressed at the end, and felt like I was floating on air walking out. The sound and visuals literally mesmerize me each time.

So--my two cents worth: I loved "Melancholia," even place it up there near "2001: A Space Odyssey," which is my favorite film of my lifetime of moviegoing so far. Something about this one haunts me, and I continue to find myself lost in thought about it, especially late at night.

I thought your comments about Kirsten Dunst were particularly nasty.

joe baltake said...

"Melancholia" annoyed/angered me as much as it transported/exhilarated you. I'm happy you got something out of it. Me? As I said, I was in hell, no thanks largely to the relentless use of the hand-held camera. BTW, I liked von Trier's "Dogville" a lot - very much in fact. I think it's his most complete, fully realized film. Have a terrific weekend. BTW, I don't believe that I was "particularly nasty" to Kirsten. I simply wrote that she's a lightweight in over her head here. She's very pleasing but, again, lightweight. That's nasty?

Thompson said...

This film, though slow and challenging at times has haunted me since I viewed it. If a good film is one that makes you think and stays in your thoughts afterwards, than this movie qualifies. I found the underlying tension running throughout the movie nearly palpable and had me on the edge of my seat. Many of the comments are about the director and not the work. I found it to be a masterwork and I don't know any of the directors previous work.

James said...

I really loved it. Went to see it twice.

On the contrary, I thought the sisters looking nothing like each other and having different accents enriched the film. You could argue it makes the film MORE true to life, as siblings are often as different as chalk and cheese (in my view, explaining this difference would have been a waste of time).

It also draws attention to the fact cinema is just a play on life. The sisters are unlike because they're not related in real life. For some, that fact jumps out and spoils the flow of the film, but what are perceived as little spanners in the works for some are points of interest for me.

I loved the jibes at ceremony and tradition, too. I was beaming away whenever the mother came on to make some pithy comment. Just my taste , I suppose.

Dunst's state of mind improves as the planet approaches. The world is hers now (albeit briefly). Her sister, who finds it easy to slot into a shallow, materialistic conception of life can't cope with the impending catastophe. It's up to Dunst's character to provide a coping strategy for her nephew while the boy's mother (it's not hard to sympahise) falls apart.

I thought Dunst's character going on about the Earth being evil was unnecessary and I was not too convinced by Kiefer Sutherland's character bailing out like that. Him being despatched like that just felt convenient.

I was reading the other day in some introduction to Shakespeare book (I admit I know precisely nothing about Shakespeare) that Comedies usually end in marriage and Tragedies usually end in death. With Melancholia, you get the best of both worlds.

Joe A. said...

Masterwork Ha!
Maybe. But only if you buy into the “self aggrandized” Hollywood mentality.
The movie was laughable at every level. A sojourn into the tedious.
Nothing could make this worth watching not even the gratuitous nude scenes.
I feel embarrassment for you. This is not “art.” You have been flimflammed.

Joe B., a sterling review.

bloomboom said...

if you don't understand, just say you don't understand. don't knock it because you don't get it.

mike vargo said...

There is much to be learned from this film. Like the fact that a rogue planet approaching Earth has weird gravitational effects, which begin with numbing the actors' lips and muffling the microphones, leaving a sync-soundtrack full of mumbly dialogue that can scarcely be deciphered. Then again, judging from the lines I was able to understand, perhaps that's a good thing.

As the planet comes nearer, its pull also degrades general artistic quality. The result is a film that starts out great, with some positively electric scenes, then gets progressively worse. The suspense literally put me on the edge of my seat: should I leave now? ... now? ... Sadly, I stayed to the end. And what a colossally blown ending. He could've had the planet miss, leaving the sad girl to face the rest of her sad life. Now, that would have been interesting. But nooo.

Kent said...

I want there to be so much more to this movie. I know I should never watch something expecting it to be awesome because you are always disappointed - I expected a powerful psychological feast. All that remains are archetypes we can relate to, but it doesn't really provoke you to think too much past the subject matter. Sure, it reminds us maybe of ourselves, situations in the past, people we know, your ex-girlfriend, and the way we do not give a fuck in the grips of numbness... It tells us that even if you have all the riches and love in the world, it will never be enough to save you from yourself. (Or my favorite: Rich people in movies can never seem to appreciate what they have) And for some reason, the fact that no one seems to be medicated even though they are rich. It makes me mad because depression is a subject matter that so many people can relate to, and we do, but it feels lackluster. I can watch "How the Universe works" and my hair will stand up. The cosmic events in this movie are not comparable. The director tries to save his ass by saying it’s unrealistic (yet metaphoric) on purpose. I don't like it when directors say they do things badly on purpose. That makes me think they are bad or lazy. The actors do their part splendidly. Sadly you cannot always save a bad plot with good acting. It is a movie about the end of the world, and depression; and nothing more than that. It is true that the more you know of a subject, the more apparent the flaws are, the less you can appreciate it. To truly enjoy it, you must be willingly ignorant of its shortcomings. Me? I’d rather watch Black Swan. Not to mention the jerky camera action, the quiet whispering voices you can barely hear followed by repetitive loud booming music. Meh to Melancholia. Hopefully his showcase on Nymphomania is more interesting.

js plafaoMelancho said...

I was disappointed with this flick. I was able to watch it the whole way through but continued to note so many 'false' moments in it that it lost it's credibility for me. People don't act the way they do in the protracted wedding scenes on display. To continue dancing and prancing when the bride takes long breaks to recuperate in somebody's room? Interesting ideas--poorly executed, is my capsule review. Largely, pretentious crap!.......js plafaoMelancho

Spinozist said...

Why do we watch movies? Read books? Encounter art? For entertainment? Escape? Truth? Yet it always misses the mark. Film is never a depiction of the world as it is. Art is always-already representation, a farce. To wish for more will always leaves us wanting. A filmmaker (artist) who appreciates the futility of striving for realism has the power to touch on the "real" subjects that give substance and meaning, the in-between relations - shared but never sufficient to bridge the infinitesimally enormous chasms that connect us.

The cinematic tools (stilted acting, otherworldly starkness, discontinuities - so loathed by a number of commentators on this blog) function as constant reminders that "this is only a movie". With "Antichrist" and "Melancholia", Von Trier has honed these tools to the point of being able to offer both a believability to the narrative while always hinting at at tinge of dissonance.

The joy of this film (and others by Von Trier) is the vitality and force given to the incommensurable fact that we are all hopelessly alone, never understood, and communication (representation) premised on an attempt to overcome theses failures is pointless. Lars Von Trier is a necessary voice in his commitment to the affirmation inherent in these pronouncements. Huddled in the "magic cave" moments before annihilation, we are presented with three choices: naivete, saddened resolve, or anxious fear. We are asked the question: How else to respond to the inevitability of death?

Profundity is rarely spelled out for you and is always lacking, but that's just the way it is. Art that suggests otherwise is the real pretender.

MacMaster said...

"Bad art"? "Top critic" my ass.

RagleGumm said...

The mere fact that people argue about whether it's art or not, shows, that it is a great movie.

Some hate it and try to denounce it as a cheap attempt of being overly artistic, profound and pretentious.

But it does make your mind tingle and it does stir some emotions.

david g. said...

this crap was evil propaganda. plain and simple. the same people trying to sell you 2012 fear are behind this.

James said...

A lot of disappointed people alongside one too many silly comments.

"The movie was laughable at every level", says someone called Joe A.

Really? At EVERY level?

A bit of an OTT observation, if you ask me, but perhaps I ought to be quiet as Joe A is reading this post feeling nothing but "embarassment" (eh?) for suckers like me who've been "flimflammed". To me, Joe A is a bit like a kid sticking his tongue out while holding onto his mother's apron (mother being Joe Baltake - no offence to Joe B).

On the other hand, Kent's "disappointed" review was much more thought out. I got more from the film than Kent did, but I appreciate his/her meaured post.

See my review above.

Sebastian said...

while i was equally disappointed with this film (for different reasons), the movie features alexander skarsgard, not his father stellan.

c'mon, dude..

joe baltake said...

Didn't you bother to read the credits, dude? Stellan is definitely in the film and, arguably, has a larger role in it than Alexander. In fact, as I say, he momentarily redeems the film for me.

T.H. said...

Joe,

I clicked on your review from Rotten Tomatoes because you are the only critic on that site to see that the emperor has no clothes.

"Bad art" is right, from the fresh-out-of-film-school main title to the jerky handheld camera to the "depressing and ponderous equals profound and meaningful" attitude, Melancholia is laughably bad. (I actually did laugh out loud as I was leaving the theater.) By the middle of the movie, my eyelids were heavy and I kept wondering when it would all end. One way to look at it is that this is an overlong and overcomplicated (and in the end successful) attempt to get Kirsten Dunst naked.

A long time ago, someone who knew how to make movies said, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." (That same someone also said, "Anyone who wants to learn about psychiatry from the movies should have their head examined.") Lars von Trier could learn a thing or two from Samuel Goldwyn. If he wants to peddle his nihilistic view of the world, let him get a blog like everybody else.

I've gone on too long, but one last thing. Kirsten Dunst's character is obviously a stand-in for the director. She's also a rotten and self-absorbed person with no love of life. I suspect Lars von Trier is the same. It's no wonder he claims to understand Hitler.

Thanks for the opportunity to sound off,

Zed said...

You just don't get it. But neither did the other people in the movie (until it was too late)!

Lucien said...

This movie was so pretentious. Some striking images, nothing more. It had no heart, which is probably why I was done with all of the characters long before the end of the movie. I kept thinking, "Why don't they die already

Karl said...

do you have a vague idea of what cinema is or should be? i completely agree with some of your followers: dont spend any other time or money watching these "arty films" for "snobs". pretty amazing that your comment is one of the first linked on rottentomatoes though.. also good choice for the picture on the top of the page, I'm pretty sure you're one of those whose main comment on the tree of life was some critic about the dinosaurs. just reusing wagner in such a cosmos-based fanta-scientific seems more a shortcut than a quotation.

amazing picture, unexpected deepness in dunst's interpretation, good timing and magnetic direction for a 2hours movie on depression with very few dialogues.

a movie that talks finally and gives new horizons to modern cinema, trapped between good reinterpretations of the past (your beloved hypocrites who win oscars 9/10) and completely meaningless experimentations of the so called avantguardes.

suggest warmly to anybody who loves cinema to watch, better in small movie theatres!

jan branch said...

i love movies of all kinds. unfortunately this movie i found very disappointing. the beginning "artsy" part had nothing to do with part 1 or part 2 stories of the film or the end. the concept of a planet crashing into another is great! but who cares about some depressed "princess" that everyone wants to make happy and her lavish expensive wedding that takes up HALF of the movie? who cares about a bunch of rich people in the middle of nowhere and how they deal with the end of the world? no one does. some of the cinematography in this movie would seem more interesting as a background wallpaper on your computer then in this movie. i also don't understand the relevancy of Kirsten dunst boobs being in the movie too... one interesting thing about this movie although is that each sister had a separate story and that they saw the end of the world so differently.

sinful1 said...

I saw this film and I loved the opening. I thought the title scene was awkward and askew from the rest of the movie. I thought Kirsten did ok but was completely out of her element... I loved the visuals that the movie brought to your eye, but I feel the monologue was lacking severely and it dragged. The scene in the beginning where the planets collide was amazing yet the actual ending was sad in the way of disappointment. I would love this film if it were a set of pictures on a wall and not a film at all.

frank said...

Well said!! You nailed it!

Sabine said...

This movie was indeed "bad art." So bad, in fact, that I felt the urge to actually go online and comment on it. And it's not that I didn't get the movie. Of course I did, as Melancholia is a painfully obvious film. It's just that Trier took some admittedly interesting ideas and completely dropped the ball with them. First, Mr. von Trier opens this little narcissistic enterprise with two of the most worn down, obvious tools in a filmmaker's playbook: slow motion and Wagner. Christ, slow motion is bad enough, but when put to Wagner? Goddamn, it must be art! Right? Right?! Apparently, Wagner equals automatic profundity. You know though, given the repeated references to German Romanticism throughout the film, I at least see what Trier was going for. He just failed, majestically so. For a while there I really wasn't sure if the movie was serious or not in the beginning. Yeah, it was visually striking, but it felt like a parody of an arthouse film. And then the movie began in earnest. And it literally went nowhere. People did things for no damn reason, said incredibly adolescent gibberish about how the world is "EVIL," and finally died. I have never been more disconnected from a film than I have been with this one. Perhaps that was Trier's intention though, to make everybody feel as low as he does. If that's the case, then bravo. Geez, my words here aren't really doing justice to how bad a film this is. It's a film that explores nothing and reaches no conclusion. Truly one of the most vacuous film experiences I've ever had.

Bob said...

If you'd like to see art... I'd suggest going to a gallery. Or just watch the first Minute... and then the last ten seconds. Too much has already been said on this mishap/ CRAP HEAP of a movie. Terrible acting, shotty camera work, and really just a terrible screenplay. Really, the only good thing about this movie is a sensual interpersonal scene between the planet Melancholia and Kirsten Dunsts' beautiful naked breasts.must anything more be said? The score wasn't horrible I suppose. Give it a spin, who knows. Perhaps your tastes are even dryer than mine own?

Unknown said...

there was no warmth within the characters or between them, except for Kirsten Dunst. Her parents were complete assholes, her husband a goofball who abandoned her the night of the wedding. Her boss praised her, and then harassed her through a new protege at her own wedding. No wonder she was melancholic, with so many shit people around her...Jeez Louise, just watching this mess of a movie made me feel sad too.

mary e. said...

there was no warmth within the characters or between them, except for Kirsten Dunst. Her parents were complete assholes, her husband a goofball who abandoned her the night of the wedding. Her boss praised her, and then harassed her through a new protege at her own wedding. No wonder she was melancholic, with so many shit people around her...Jeez Louise, just watching this mess of a movie made me feel sad too.

April said...

These comments, along with Joe B's review, summarize my thoughts about the awful Melancholia. I've enjoyed plenty of "art-house" movies and as someone else said above, for me this a clear case of "the emperor has no clothes".

The trailer looked beautiful and promising but the actual film did not bare out. I was just bored and incredulous at the character's vapid behaviors.

Ah, two hours plus wasted.

Beth Up North said...

Bad "art" indeed. The only point that I have not seen in these reviews, is the stereotypical nature of EVERY situation and character. The bride is beautiful but uninvolved. The groom is awestruck and has nothing to say but that she is beautiful. The sister is Type A and nervous, her husband Type A and domineering. The butler is the kind one. The child is sweet, innocent, and docile. Depression is dragging. Anxiety hypes one up like a squirrel. The beautiful one is mean and self centered. The rich guy is crass, as are all the rich people. In the end the man can't handle the truth. No one actually connects with another human. Each is alone, trapped with their silence, as we were trapped with the swelling, repetitive music. If this is someones true vision of life I hope they do seek medication and therapy, as life should not be this kind of suffering. And neither should movies.

Beth Up North said...

Bad "art" indeed. The only point that I have not seen in these reviews, is the stereotypical nature of EVERY situation and character. The bride is beautiful but uninvolved. The groom is awestruck and has nothing to say but that she is beautiful. The sister is Type A and nervous, her husband Type A and domineering. The butler is the kind one. The child is sweet, innocent, and docile. Depression is dragging. Anxiety hypes one up like a squirrel. The beautiful one is mean and self centered. The rich guy is crass, as are all the rich people. In the end the man can't handle the truth. No one actually connects with another human. Each is alone, trapped with their silence, as we were trapped with the swelling, repetitive music. If this is someones true vision of life I hope they do seek medication and therapy, as life should not be this kind of suffering. And neither should movies.

Mary Ann Farley said...

I've experienced clinical depression, as has Dunst, who was treated for it just before this film, I believe. She absolutely nails it with incredible skill and honesty.

Not everyone experiences something so awful as depression, so there might be a limited audience for this film, which captures the haunting hopelessness of the condition so perfectly. I thought it was brilliant.

Lauren said...

The first 5 minutes of this all I glimpsed was a Bergmanesque, Kubrick wannabe with sprinkling of David Lynch. Then nothing more of this film came as a surprise.

An Asshole said...

“Armageddon” more your taste is it?

John T. said...

The first honest and well-reasoned review of this movie I have seen. "'Melancholia' isn't an art film but a parody of one" is EXACTLY right.

Natalie said...

Pretentious, cliched and without meaning. Bergman touches the ideas attempted here with honesty. Melancholia can only appeal to those who know not of earlier masterpieces. The wealth of those in this film completely makes me lose any interest in their suffering. Who can identify with anyone other than the child???

flashpt said...

I've never been a Kirsten Duntz fan, but thought she pulled off this role. The critique by Jim above pretty much captured my thoughts about the hits and misses of this film. My wife was assigned this film by one of her clients. I was preparing to watch the Green Bay/Vikings playoff game, but relented. I almost walked out of the slo-mo beginning (the contrast between an NFL playoff game and the beginning of this film was almost too much to bear), but stayed and was rewarded. My wife should review this film as she can speak more to (Jungian) archetypes than I can. Very few films remain in my brain the next day. I woke up thinking about this one. I thought the music worked (I guessed Mahler, or even Holst, but found it was Wagner). I'm still trying to figure out the story in relationship to the end of the world. Not many films leave me this interested. The game, by the way, was a blowout (worth missing). This film OTOH may be worth watching again. At least the opening scenes. This film might have been the one to watch
Dec. 20, 2012 eve, but not with booze and pills nearby.

Michael Mata said...

Just now seeing this movie. Pretty great. I think it is interesting that there is disconnect between the modern viewer and real film experiences. There is something going on with attention span, it seems, that disallows people from appreciating real "filmic" experiences. I don't understand really, because I'm in my early 30's and grew up with the internet coming into prominence, cable tv, etc. But I love great films like this too. I understand that people have a hard time with the pacing of classic films, or something like this movie, or Mallick, or whatever it may be, but it is unfortunate because this is what film is about--unbelievable images in connection with sound that convey deep, literary-type ideas come to life; ideas that challenge and stimulate all of ones critical analysis faculties; and all of this opposed to a lot of dialogue (plays), explicit plot structure/story arc (TV), etc. Anyway, I totally disagree with the negative reviews. And as for Kirsten Dunst: I was never a fan until I recently saw her in Marie Antoinette (another incredible movie) and she blew me away in that role. Combined with this movie and I now consider her to be a really talented actress. But I think the one reviewer was wrong about her teen fluff roles defining her career so far, because I think her work in Interview With the Vampire is her most substantial mainstream effort so far.

See this movie.

a. said...

This movie made me think I had actually died at the ending.