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Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gaisbourg, Kiefer Sutherland

It took me over two years, but I finally watched Melancholia. Maybe it was the daunting runtime (2 hrs 16 mins) or the mixed reviews, but either way decided that enough was enough. I would tackle this Danish beast once and for all. And I must say that it was worth the wait.

Melancholia-poster-002Lars von Trier’s masterpiece opens with a series of strikingly beautiful other-worldly images, and for about the first ten minutes I found myself questioning whether or not the film would ever actually begin. (Although I was not necessarily anxious to dive into a storyline quite yet, since the opening shots were so incredible.) I knew I was in for a long ride, one that would take me to unfamiliar places, with foreign sights and sounds, and von Trier did not disappoint.

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Part One of the film centers around Justine, a depressive bride who has just been married to a caring and optimistic man (played by Alexander Skarsgard) who loves her dearly– perhaps too much for her own good– since she leaves him on their wedding night. The actual reasoning for the separation is a bit fuzzy; we catch bits of dialog in handheld-shot scenes suggesting that Justine can never truly be happy, despite the best efforts of her family and her newlywed husband.

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The air is thick with mystery at the wedding reception, as the camera moves smoothly throughout the party, following Justine wherever she goes, and catching the guests’ reactions to her just in time. Instead of feeling sorry for Justine, we get the sense that she is rather self-centered, keeping the entire party waiting while she takes a bath or strolls through the estate’s grounds. We’re not yet sure what is on Justine’s mind, and it is not until the second half of the film that we begin to find out.

melancholia7Part Two of the film begins, and the focus is now on Claire, Justine’s older sister. Unlike the opening of the film, we are given no time to prepare for this drastic switch, and the change in mood– from romantic and secretive to cold and raw– took me a bit off guard. The color pallet now takes a dip into cooler tones, as if to smooth over the transition, but  I wound up practically forgetting all that I had previously seen.

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Little by little, the underlying conflict of a new planet’s presence (appropriately entitled Melancholia) is unveiled. Claire’s astronomy-obsessed husband, John, (played by Kiefer Sutherland) dotes over his telescope and reassures Claire that they are safe from harm. But despite John’s adamance,  we begin to feel that the Earth’s destruction is imminent and any control that humans attempt to impose on the situation is in vain. In a way, we know from the beginning of the film that everything is doomed; this is what makes Melancholia a true tragedy.

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Lars von Trier mocks the optimists and sides with the pessimists in his epic drama. His innovative take on the apocalyptic tale is refreshing and gorgeously construed. Typical of the director’s style, von Trier sets the bar so high this time that it is literally in outer space. Although it is arguable that von Trier’s ambitions were too far-fetched in the making of Melancholia, causing inevitable gaps in the plot (namely the broken bridge between Parts One and Two) his talent for breathtaking imagery is left unbreached. When dealing with the end of the world, there are bound to be questions left unanswered. However, a second (or third) viewing of the film will be necessary for further investigation. God only knows how long it will take me to give it another go.

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Director: Nate Meyer

Writer: Nate Meyer

Stars: Robin Tunney, Adam Scott, Jeremy Strong

Continuing in the realm of Netflix Instant discoveries, I chose the following film last week on a whim. Unfortunately, my random pick backfired and I was left disappointed in more ways than one. Disclosure: this review is somewhat of a rant. My apologies.

see girl run posterSee Girl Run is the portrait of a woman—though more of a girl— at a critical moment in her life. Emmie, now in her mid-thirties, struggles with the notion of “what if” while stuck in a rather run-of-the-mill marriage. Tired of her routine and the minuscule disputes with her husband, Emmie flees her cozy apartment in Brooklyn and her job as a dog walker and returns home to Maine, to take care of some “unfinished business.” This business comes in the form of an old high school boyfriend, Jason, who has never given up on his undying love for Emmie, nor his dream of being a cartoonist.

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Upon her return home, Emmie discovers that her brother is a clinically depressed alcoholic, who cries on cue in almost every scene, and ultimately left me questioning whether the writers of this film actually knew what depression was. The film very briefly alludes to the brother’s involvement in an abusive relationship before moving back in with his parents, though this gives the audience little reason to sympathize with his babbling, self-loathing nonsense.

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About half-way through the film, I began to think that Emmie and Jason may never meet again. (Wasn’t their reunion the point of the film?) Frankly, this delay did not serve any purpose other than creating an almost irresistible urge to skip ahead to the end of the film. Rather than keeping me on the edge of my seat, the passing scenes left me fidgety and largely uninterested. The only distraction from my discontent was the attempted climax, when Emmie’s brother returns completely plastered after venturing out to a bar with Jason. We observe a family during a crisis, though the actual conflict feels strange and phony (if not laugh-worthy). The brother loudly boasts that he’s “not crying,” Jason tries to push his way into the house in search for Emmie, and Emmie cries alone in corner. At this point, Emmie’s brother drunkenly condemns her for expecting too much out of life (is the film now about happiness? or dreams versus reality? or is it still about the glow of first love?) I began to wonder if this film would ever resolve its ambitious number of conflicts.

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The main turning point in the film does not arrive until about the final ten or so minutes, when Emmie must consider the possibility that the “what ifs” may be less significant than the life (and marriage) that she has already chosen. An impressive number of concise, unemotional scenes—including some beautiful transition shots of Emmie’s trek back to Brooklyn (probably one of the most noteworthy pieces of the film)—bring Emmie full-circle, leaving me oddly satisfied, though still largely confused. 89 minutes later, the agony was finally over.

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Director: Giorgos Lanthimos

Writer: Efthymis Filippou, Giorgos Lanthimos

Stars: Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia

For my very first review on here, why not start with an incredibly unsettling film?

Before sitting down to watch Dogtooth, I had no idea what I was in for. Whether luckily or unluckily, I found out within the first five minutes of the film that it would be best to throw all expectations out the window. Director Giorgos Lanthimos delves unapologetically into a world where nudity is explicit yet unsexy and grown children bark like dogs.

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The Greek film (originally entitled “Kynodontas”) invites–or rather forces– the audience into the fenced-in home of a very peculiar family: a father, a mother, and three children (all in their early stages of adulthood). It is clear from the get-go that this is no ordinary household; the siblings play competitive games like young children (the film opens with a scene in which one sister proposes the three of them hold their fingers under burning hot water to see who will pull back first). The father seems to be obsessed with behavioralism; he provides rewards (usually stickers) for the sibling who can “perform” the best. Both he and his wife train their children tirelessly and with zero outside influence, until an intruder– a woman brought in to have sex with the family’s only son– begins to tarnish their so-called perfect world.

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One interesting and noticeable component of the film is the stagnancy of the camera; with the exception of very few shots, there is almost zero camera movement once the stage is set. While the characters stand up, sit down, and move about quite a bit in each scene, we have a limited visibility and are often focused on one single character for an entire scene. This makes us feel all the more trapped inside of this bizarre world, yet still curious to see what may happen next. If anything, this film is wildly unpredictable.

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The dialog: largely curt, matter-of-fact statements delivered with a childish demeanor is oddly reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film– perhaps not all too different from Moonrise Kingdom or even Fantastic Mr. Fox, yet the adult nature of the subjects (and audience) gives the writing a whole new meaning. One scene in particular, in which the two daughters perform a dance in celebration of their parents’ anniversary, brings to mind what a stylistic marriage between Anderson and Kubrick might look like. The visual symmetry contrasted with the characters’ disturbing behavior is astounding.

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Throughout the film, the training of the family’s own dog serves as a sort of allegory to the children’s development; by the end of the film the dog has completed “stage five,” much like the eldest daughter. We are left wondering what this will necessarily mean for her future, as Lanthimos’ film ends as bluntly as it begins.