Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Anything Lars von Trier makes is worth seeing - anything (and I know, all that nonsense he spouted at Cannes, which is so crucifying to watch, led a lot people to turn their backs on him, and in a sense who can blame them?) I couldn't steel myself to see Antichrist, though one day I shall, and I can well believe those who say it's not as sensationalist in its horrors as others make it out to be. It was even a bit of a task to get to Melancholia, as I'll admit it rings true to the not so distant past, but I knew we had to go, and to see it on the big screen which, by and large, we've all but abandoned other than for special events in recent years.
Funny, that, how certain modes of being feel right at one time and not another. We used to make a regular Monday thing of it after my classes - tea in Bertaux, a film at the Curzon Soho (at least since the Metro and the Lumiere gave up the ghost), a Chinese meal afterwards in the New World. Maybe cinemas are noisier, less pleasurable to visit than they used to be; I know the Empire Leicester Square is a no-go zone because of the shattering volume which even destroyed our pleasure in The Incredibles and The Life Aquatic, which shows how far back we're talking. As for the audience, I'm kinda glad I wasn't there (J was) when our friend Hen challenged the chatterers throughout a Whiteley's screening of Malcolm X with 'shut the fuck up and you might learn something'. She would like you all to know that it worked.
But there were very few folk the last time I went to the commercial cinema, to see Of Gods and Men in Mayfair - our popcorning neighbours were soon stunned into silence - and even fewer at the Curzon Chelsea on Sunday evening. I was glad we saw both in the right circumstances. What to say about the extraordinary collision of two themes in Melancholia without regurgitating the little plot there is? Kirsten Dunst rings frighteningly true as Justine, a pretty girl first sinking into, then deeply sunk in, a depression that may or may not give her oracular knowledge of the impending world's end (Dunst admits to having been there, like von Trier; everything she does feels authentic). There's a second, pivotal contribution from the strange, mumbly but compelling Charlotte Gainsbourg (pictured up top with Dunst in the first of Christan Gesnaes' images). There are also good flanking performances, not least from the very lovely Alexander of the hugely talented Skarsgård tribe - I barely recognised Papa Stellan - as the new husband Justine apparently loves.
But it's von Trier's personal trajectory which amazes. Yes, the opening sequence is one of the most spellbinding in cinematic history; yes, the dysfunctional wedding does go on, but certainly every time the Tristan Prelude - the only music in the film other than incidental stuff at the reception - resurfaces, expect staggering imagery. Could von Trier have handled the Bayreuth Ring after all, or is his own imagination too big for other people's fantasies? It was a bit worrying, of course, that he snips bars out of Wagner here and there, not least for the denouement, where he leaps so quickly to the climax of all that unquenchable yearning that I laughed when I shouldn't (nervously? Not sure). But the music, and the sounds of near-silence, certainly add to the metaphysical dimension, and the concentration on this hermetically sealed world of the big house by the sea is harrowing.
Unique, unrepeatable, probably indescribable. I see in any case that I haven't made a good job, but I'm a bit wonky anyway from three and a half hours moving between the dentist's chair and waiting room as the poor woman tried to deaden an inflamed nerve to get a tooth out. I am, apparently, the most intractable case she's ever had, though at least she finally believed me that the nerve in question was causing all the trouble, when she at last got through to tackle it head on. Seems to tie in well with all this, somehow, especially as Durer's allegorical depressive seems to have a bad case of toothache and as I sat through Melancholia worriting about the pain in the lower right corner of my mouth. That, of course, added to the edginess of the viewing experience.