Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fantastic Fest 2011: Short Takes - Melancholia (B+) and A Boy and His Samurai (A-)

This may be the most mismatched double bill of all time, so it figures it was my final post for Fantastic Fest 2011. My first thought upon exiting Lars Von Trier's latest film, Melancholia, was that it was easily the most depressing and perhaps nihilistic film of the year. The first half of the film takes place during a wedding reception where Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexaner Skarsgard) are being thrown the most expensive, extravagant wedding party ever by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law (Keifer Sutherland). While the night begins happily, when Justine's divorced parents begin openly fighting during toasts, the night is effectively ruined, and Justine slips further and further into depression, testing everyone's patience and putting a strain on her new marriage. thigns continue to get worse, and the inevitable happens. Part 2, of course, deals with her debiliating depression (she can barely physically stand or eat) as seen through Claire's eyes, as well as the basic pitch of the story: a planet roughly ten times the size of earth, formerly hidden behind the sun, is on a collision course with our world. While Justine falls deeper into nihilistic depression, accepting a fate of certain doom, Claire becomes anxious and frightened.

I'll admit, I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about this one, and to some extent, I'm still not sure. I think in most ways, it's Lars Von Trier's most grounded, mature, moving film, and also his least flashy. It features some of the best performances of the year from Kirsten Dunst (who is a revelation here) and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and some truly stunning direction and cinematography, and a powerful, moving script. Unfortunately, the first half of the film is the strongest part, and features some of the most natural, nuanced, truthful work I've seen in a film all year. But the second half is quite bloated, and had it been trimmed down, would have been a stronger section. That said, the film ends on an incredibly haunting note and a final shot that will stick with me for a very, VERY long time. Lars Von Trier is doing some of his most truthful, mature work here, yet it's a flawed whole. I'm looking forward to revisiting it later this year to get a better grip on how I feel about it. For now, I like or love about 90% of the film and could do with 10% of fat that needed trimming.

On the other side of the spectrum is the wonderful Japanese film, A Boy and His Samurai, which may be the most optimistic, uncynical film I've seen in ages. On the surface, it's a remake of Kate and Leopold & The Iron Giant, only with a much more genuine, funny, & moving film underneath (said as someone who enjoys both of those films).

The film is essentially a romantic comedy about a time-lost samurai who is found by a boy and his single mother, and taken under their wing. While not a particularly deep film, it is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. The relationship between the boy and the samurai is one of the most endearing, genuine friendships I've seen all year, and I have to assume you don't have a soul if you don't get choked up at some point near the end of the film. It's such a shame the film likely won't receive US distribution for some time, so I am very glad I was given the opportunity to see such a wonderful piece of cinema this year. If you ever get a chance to see it, please, please do. You will like it, I promise.

And with that, Fantastic Fest comes to a close for this year. It's been one hell of a great time, and I can't wait to come back next September, as always. Till then, look for more reviews of theatrical releases between now and late October when I head to Austin Film Festival. Sound off in the comments section, as always!


Aziza said...

Interesting review! I am going to see Melancholia this weekend, hopefully I'll like it!

MarkusWelby1 said...

I sincerely hope "Boy and his Samurai" gets a U.S. release. The good reviews of this one continue to come in.

Kevin K. said...

I hope it does as well, it's such a wonderful little film. Slight maybe, but it doesn't have a cynical bone in it's body, and left me with a huge smile on my face for most of the running time.

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