Within the past few weeks, I had watched two more than depressing films that have a bit of a focus on personal loss of self as well as destruction of relationships. One of those movies happened to be the movie I stated was to be my next review, Lars von Trier’s 2011 Melancholia while the other was Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 requiem to connection Blue Valentine. And while the two share the mutual themes I mentioned before, the relationships that are collapsed within the films differ largely – Valentine‘s mourning is for a romantic relationship that began with the same amount of passion as the hatred it ended in and Melancholia, while the first act takes its sweet time scraping apart a very very very disastrous marriage, overall looks over the separation of a family and the spite that grows out of it.
Melancholia, which seems to have been rejected by Trier for its polished feel and more artificial romanticism as opposed to Trier’s usual starkness in his films, feels largely like a proscenium play, no less established by its separation into acts and singular environment of Tjolöholm Castle. It at first starts with cinematic imagery largely constructed in the forms of paintings and photographs deliberately communicating the leitmotifs of the film, culminating in Trier decidedly spoiling the movie so that we shift our focus on the relationship of the characters, rather than the possibility of impending destruction – a very smart storytelling move on the part of Trier. After that single work of cinematic aesthetic in the film, Melancholia moves and speaks like a stage production, rather than a larger-than-life movie. Trier tries very hard to hold onto his Dogme aesthetic with handheld camerawork and jump cuts, to fake the erratic feel of his previous movies, but Melancholia does not fall for that so easily and always has that feel of a grander scale than Trier is used to. Maybe that’s why it’s his red-headed stepchild, but regardless of his feeling towards the film, it does not hurt the movie at all. It is, in fact, a breath of fresh air for Trier to accidentally create a symphony than deliberately give us a cacophony. And it is a very pleasant surprise to find his ability in delivering that work.
Blue Valentine, on the other hand, doesn’t try to go out of its way to feel more realistic or down-to-earth – it just is. Under Derek Cianfrance’s direction and the eye of Andrij Parekh, the movie is able to create a more intimate and less theatrical atmosphere than Trier’s 2011 work, akin to Trier’s previous films of Antichrist, Manderlay and Dogville. It’s focus on the dissolution of relationships, not pessimistic but very downer regardless, seems Trier-esque, not giving us any reprieve from the downward spiral the characters go through.
In both circumstances, they are carried more by the performances than any discernible script involved with the story. Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s respective reactions to both their situation promising the end of the world and their reactions to each other. Dunst easily gives the best performance of her career as a severely depressed woman whose depression surprisingly grants her a perspective of rationality in the place of her uptight and panicking sister played by Gainsbourg. Together, they portray this tug-o’-war about who has the proper mindset for a life that is about to literally crash and burn all around them, even when one did the crashing and burning beforehand. The rest of the cast simply seems like background pieces to their performances, rather than actual foundations… the center stage is on the two sisters, Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg), and they are the only ones that matter. It is both the greatest strength and a slight flaw of the storytelling of Melancholia.
On the other hand, Blue Valentine requires the environment to be a part of what both dissolves and strengthens the relationship between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) – but the performances from the leads are still the biggest anchor in the film’s emotional weight. It’s just that the film’s environment supports the film, rather than just provide a backdrop. Dean and Cindy are a product of how they were raised – Dean the laidback guy who believes in love and Cindy the grounded one whose feet is flat on the floor and trying to make better of where she is. The progressively non-linear narrative of the film does not outright express the outcome of the film nor telegraph it immediately at the beginning of the film… it implies it though, making the audience balance between hope and dread for this couple’s future. In the meantime, a haunting score by indie band Grizzly Bear and the New York setting compounded with the aged look of the picture on the part of Cianfrance and Parekh, the movie reflects the attempts of the couple to retain a youthful freshness and hold on to the same sudden and fantastic feelings the two had when they first fell in love, but the doom of the relationship always sits in the future like a Sword of Damocles waiting to be dropped. The same fireworks at the end of the film, beautifully lit and remaining even throughout the credits, that symbolize celebration and hope could explosively represent the remnants of what probably won’t remain whole ever again.
Overall, the two films I saw practically back-to-back and I found a connection with both films of a relationship that desperately wanted to hold on and wasn’t going down without a fight, but by the end of it, had to accept fate.
To remain with Melancholia, which continues my review on Trier’s Depression Trilogy. Melancholia portrays depression in a better light than Antichrist, which portrayed depression as a means for either coldness and disassociation or for ferocity and viciousness in a violent hysteria. But the depressed presence in Melancholia, which not being a bucket of sunshine, did not really choose to let herself go down kicking and screaming but instead seemed to portray such a catastrophe was an escape from her own mental state.
It’s interesting, because such a shift makes the trilogy at this point less an autobiographical self-indulgence in order to let go of Trier’s depression at the time and more as a study of manners for the situation of being depressed. Does this make Trier similar to his creation of Dafoe’s character in Antichrist, putting the depressed under a microscope?
I would argue not, he’s probably at this point intending to figure out how he got to where he was emotionally and mentally and wants to approach it from all angles, dark and light.
In addition, both Melancholia and Blue Valentine are overall depressing but beautiful films and I have to recommend them for all who can take the emotional drainage they demand in exchange for such beauty.
The third movie in Trier’s Depression Trilogy, Nymphomaniac, is slated for release this Christmas. After a serious of provocative character posters and teasers with short snippets of some chapters of the film, Trier’s company finally released a trailer for the film that, carrying a lot of NSFW imagery (including a short flash of a vagina), got taken down by YouTube, just as one would expect from a trailer for a Trier film titled Nymphomaniac of all fucking things. My favorite moment of the trailer is Stellan Skarsgård’s character giving a smirk and Gainsbourg’s character reacting stating “It’s nothing to smile about.” It definitely gives me an idea of what the movie might be about and what it will have to say. The frankness and anti-eroticism that the film will probably portray its graphic sex scenes in will maybe deliver on that feeling of distrust and certainty of being taken advantage of.
But the moment the movie is released, you can bet I’ll be reviewing it. In the meantime, thank you for reading.