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Lars von Trier is the master of misery. From Dancer in the Dark to Breaking the Waves, his films focus on human suffering and characters who gradually unravel. His latest film, Melancholia, is no different. It begins on the wedding night of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). Justine is struggling with depression and relies on her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to help hide it from her guests. Meanwhile in space, the planet Melancholia is approaching planet Earth, threatening to destroy the world.

In this strange world of Lars von Trier there is no such thing as normalcy within the strained relationships of the middle class. The typical wedding rituals of cutting the cake, the Bridal waltz and the throwing of the bouquet are interrupted by Justine’s strange behavior. The bitter exchanges between her mother (Charlotte Rampling) and father (Jesper Christensen) are out-of-place in this glamorous Swedish estate.

The pace of Melancholia is slow and hypnotic. At times it can feel almost transcendent as we watch the characters trudge around the mansion at a snails pace. Other times the sleepy tempo can irk ones nerves. Towards the film’s close we wish the world would hurry up and end so we no longer have to endure the excruciatingly drudging final moments of the family.

Followers of Lars von Trier’s work will find familiarity with the handheld style, which evokes dizziness and sometimes even nausea amongst the audience. The opening sequence — a slow montage of images including an abandoned golf course, a maudlin bride, shadows enfolding an elegant garden — are truly haunting. They resemble unhinged promotional photos for a high-end perfume, creating a sense of dysfunction within prestige and privilege.

Melancholia is what you’d expect from Lars von Trier. It is a stylised tale of doomsday, mental illness, and middle class self-indulgence. While some may be agitated by the handheld camera work and lengthy running time, others will be absorbed in the scenes of lush gardens and decadent estates.

Melancholia starts at Cinema Nova, Carlton from Thursday 15 Dec. For session times and ticket information visit cinemanova.com.au

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