“No more happy endings,” joked Lars Von Trier, still smarting from the beating he took upon the release of Antichrist. Late in 2009, the director said he was planning a science-fiction film about the end of the world, fueling speculation that the new one would be a departure from the dark, junk-crushing epic that had earned him such scorn at Cannes. But now that Melancholia is here, it plays like an obvious companion piece to the earlier film. There are some tweaks, sure. Antichrist depicted a marriage racked by a woman’s guilt, while Melancholia features a wedding wrecked by a woman’s depressive disorder. But both films probe the nature of depression and the ways it can inspire people to withdraw, lash out, and sabotage their own chances at happiness.
After a recent screening of Rachel Getting Married in Pleasantville, NY, Jonathan Demme confessed that, for several years following his remake of The Manchurian Candidate, he lost interest in fiction films. (During that time, he made the documentaries Neil Young: Heart of Gold and Jimmy Carter Man from Plains.) That helps explain the directorial departure that is Rachel Getting Married, a film with a present-tense title that helps convey the immediacy of its documentary style. Shooting to HD tape rather than 35mm film magazines, Demme and his Man from Plains cinematographer, Declan Quinn, let the camera roll through long takes, staging a momentous family gathering and capturing it in a warm, disarming fly-on-the-wall style.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale)
goes Woody Allen one better with this dysfunctional-family dramedy that manages
to be psychologically astute as well as wickedly funny. Margot (Nicole Kidman)
and Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are estranged sisters reunited on the
occasion of Pauline’s marriage at their childhood home somewhere in
little ball of insecurity.) The needy, scattered Pauline doesn’t have her life
together, but Margot is a real piece of work, lashing out at her sister, her
brother-in-law-to-be, and even Pauline’s redneck neighbors. The story
occasionally embraces cliché and stretches credulity, but Baumbach’s incisive writing
and direction tease out the character notes that underlie Margot’s cruelty,
adding depth to a woman who becomes less and less sympathetic, spinning her
wheels desperately in an effort to find traction in the failings of those
around her. You feel for the gawky but sweet son she keeps in tow (even as she
cuckolds his father), but not for Margot herself — it’s a rare American film
that revolves around such an unlikable character. Evocative cinematography — no
shadows, only shades of gray — by Harris Savides rounds out a unique and unsettling
This review originally appeared in the White Plains Times.