Lars von Trier's Melancholia is a haunting, disturbing film about the deterioration of the closest of human connections, the familial, and the inevitable collision of lives that have grown too close through steadily declining orbits. Von Trier, who wrote the screenplay, gives the beautifully nuanced relationship between passive-aggressive beauty Justine (a radiant Kirsten Dunst) and martyr-victim plain-Jane sister Claire (the remarkable Charlotte Gainsbourg) an astrological counterpart -- the formerly hidden planet Melancholia (Claire? Justine?) draws perilously close big blue Earth (Justine? Claire?). The combination of these two seemingly incompatible storylines was disconcerting for me at first, but then something clicked. It came when Claire's contemptuous husband John (a wonderful Kiefer Sutherland) confesses to his panicked wife that he was not entirely sure that Melancholia would fly by the Earth and all would be well as he had formerly assured her. This deception capsulizes the lack of trust in their fragile relationship (a dance of death) and, indeed, all of the relationships in this film except that between Justine and her adoring young nephew Leo (Cameron Spurr). In fact, it is that bond that von Trier sears (quite literally) into our brains at film's end. (Warning: If you're prone to motion sickness from viewing handheld camera work, the first half of this film might be tough going for you.)


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