Friday, December 30, 2011

Lars Von Trier's Apocalyptic vision

I'm a big fan of Lars Von Trier's movies. He's always come across to me as being poetically disturbed, from Breaking The Waves to Dancer In The Dark here's a fearless filmmaker that isn't afraid to push the envelope and make you feel uncomfortable. His latest is no exception, it's called Melancholia and is split into two parts - both completely different in tone and color. It's no surprise too that Von Trier made this film -just like 2009's Antichrist, while going through a sever depression.

The opening credits are stunning, showing a world come to an end via slow motion, painterly photographs and a wagnerian score that continually repeats throughout fractions of the film. These incredible images set the tone for part 2 but let's start with the beginning. The first part is a wedding between two newly weds. In fact it's a train wreck of a wedding. Everything bad that could happen happens. Kirsten Dunst's Justine is the bride and she coincidentally is also going through a severe depression. Why would the groom get married with a severely depressed -and deranged?- woman is beyond me but it's truly interesting and funny how Von Trier mocks his characters, with his audience also knowing that everybody on screen will eventually die.

In a stirringly bizarre scene, Justine leaves her wedding to stare at the stars and there appears glowing shapes of light ala The Tree Of Life on screen. Is it all happening in her head or is Justine seeing things beyond everybody else's comprehension. Later on in the movie she tells her sister "I see things" it's a clue for us to wonder if she actually went through this depression knowing an apocalypse is coming before everyone else did. In the aforementioned credits Justine is seen with lighting bolts eviscerating through her fingers. It's a reminder that what we might perceive as a mentally ill person in the film might not be as ill as we think.

The second part is incredibly hypnotic. The apocalypse is here and yet Justine's sister Christine is told by her oblivious husband -a playful Kiefer Sutherland- that she need not worry, nothing is coming and the mysterious planet Melancholia will just bypass earth. Dunst -knowing death is near- starts coming off her depression and Christine knowing death is near starts going into depression. It's a brilliant switcheroo that proves to us Von Trier has not lost his ability to be a real thinker. He knows how to manipulate then hit his audience hard. His images are memorable and his film a complete work of art.

Melancholia isn't a film for everyone but it is a thinker's movie. Love it or hate it, there is something that is being said here. Von Trier might be a madman but he's not an idiot. He is an auteur first and foremost and attention does need to be paid. In fact this would be a very interesting companion piece to 2011's best movie, Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life - two totally different works of art but both statements about human nature and creation itself.

Fincher's dark, dreamy "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"

When I first heard that David Fincher -one of the great modern directors- was going to tackle Stieg Larsson's hugely popular pulp novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I held my breath. I mean here's a book that was already adapted as a movie earlier last year in its native tongue of Swedish (My Review can be found HERE) & didn't really need to be followed-up as an American remake. Little did I know Fincher would change things up quite a bit here and make something that is competently watchable even though it does give us a certain sense of deja vu.

Listen up, this film ain't perfect but what Fincher does is consequently change the material he has at hand with his own uniquely dark spin on goth girl power. Rooney Mara gives the female performance of the year as Lisbeth Salander and she is Fincher's muse throughout this movie's close to 160 minute running time. Fincher shoots her with such a keen eye for detail that the murder mystery plot that surrounds the movie is only second to our fiery heroine. It's a character study. Fincher knows Salander is the central interest for viewers and he quenches our thirst.

The eye popping opening credits are hard to describe. Computer cables, naked bodies and dark blood are showcased throughout as Trent Reznor's scorching remake of Zeppelin's Immigrant Song plays in the background. I saw it as a warning to audiences to beware and know the whiplash that is coming, if you can't handle the loud, heavy metaled credits you won't be able to handle the film itself which features rape and graphic violence. Reznor's incredible score follows up the masterful work he did in Fincher's The Social Network late last year.

This is also very much an auteur movie all the way through. Fincher frames his shots and lights his lighting much in the same beautifully obessive way he did in Zodiac and The Social Network. For Fincher, every shot counts, every gesture by Mara is key but -unlike Zodiac- there aren't clues that lie in every frame (a kind of let down for me) just incredibly nasty people that deserve much bad will.

Who are we kidding here, this is pulpy, cryptic stuff that the late Larsson concocted a few years ago in his Stockholm suite. It was bound to rub critics and audiences the wrong way and Fincher knew that all along. The film's flaws show, the sense of deja vu I was talking about earlier is very much present. Fincher can't change everything and has to lay bare with important plot details that have appeared in both the books and the Swedish movies. I can deal with that, cause my heart is with Mara -an incredible talent- and the heart and soul of this nasty movie. I fell in love with the girl and her dragon tattoo.

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