Lars von Trier, Melancholia, 2011, still from a color video transferred to 35-mm film, 130 minutes.


“I HOPE NO ONE gets a clit cut off in this movie,” a colleague sitting next to me said this morning before Lars von Trier’s Competition entry Melancholia. She was, of course, referring to the self-inflicted snipping of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s tender lady part in Antichrist, which was in contention for the Palme d’Or in 2009 and proved so inflammatory to some journalists that the director was booed at his own press conference.

Melancholia, though it depicts the end of the world in its prelude, is much less provocative than von Trier’s previous film; it’s the flip side to Competition titles like The Tree of Life and Naomi Kawase’s Hanezu, which mythopoeically explores the birth of Japan. (If bad kids and the worse things done to them dominated the first week of the festival, the second has been defined by the big bang and doomsday.) Kirsten Dunst, who replaced Penélope Cruz, plays Justine, a new bride who suffers from crippling depression. Her mental illness is so severe that she drives away her groom during their wedding reception. Justine is tended to by her sister, Claire (Gainsbourg), who grows more anxious about the impending approach of Melancholia, “a planet that has been hiding behind the sun.”

At the Melancholia press conference, von Trier was met not with fourth-estate fury but polite, if tepid, response. When a correspondent from Indonesia asked if he were happy with the film, the director, known for taking none of these press events seriously, responded, “When I saw the stills, I kind of rejected it a little. Maybe it’s crap. I hope not. But there’s a really big possibility that this [film] might not be worth seeing.”

The Q&A proved such a pleasant, dull affair that von Trier couldn’t resist stirring up trouble. In answer to a London reporter’s query about the Teutonic influences in the film—Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is heard throughout—and von Trier’s discovery in 1989 that his biological father was German, the director replied, “I thought I was a Jew and was happy. And then I found out I was really Nazi.” As Dunst, sitting to von Trier’s left, began to squirm, he continued, “I understand Hitler. I sympathize with him a little bit. [. . .] I’m for the Jews—but not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass.” After the filmmaker admitted his admiration for Albert Speer, a Canadian journalist decided to jump right in with this crucial question: Did von Trier consider Melancholia his answer to the blockbuster? His response: “Yes, we Nazis try to work on a grander scale.”

Melissa Anderson