I’ve been meaning to check out the “Talk Cinema” film series at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts for years, and finally took the leap on Tuesday night after realizing the only other real entertainment I’d be able to drum up was watching Nancy Grace make a tearful exit from “Dancing with the Stars.”
Why settle for melodrama when you can experience “Melancholia” — the latest film from Danish director Lars von Trier. I knew it was this month’s “Talk Cinema” offering because I peeked at the spoiler on the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts website. Folks who like to be surprised can skip the link that leads to the lowdown.
“Melancholia” had a good turnout, and the crowd was amazingly quiet throughout the movie. These folks appreciate film as fine art, rather than mistaking it for a giant popcorn and soda fest. That fact alone is ample reason to become a “Talk Cinema” regular.
About half the audience stayed after the film for a fun Q & A with Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic. Sometimes the films are moderated by experts with a more scholarly bent. Most of the audience gave the film a big thumbs down — saying it was too long or composed of too many disparate elements.
The film is broken into two parts, each devoted to one of two sisters. In the first, we meet a sister on the night of her wedding, which doesn’t end well. We also meet the sisters’ parents, who share some awkward moments and reveal a bit of their own baggage.
In the second, we learn more about the other sister, who has a husband and a young son. The husband has a telescope and seemingly unshakeable faith in science. The son crafts a less sophisticated tool that reveals infinitely more. Together these characters face the prospect of a planet called “Melancholia” colliding with our own.
I was happy to let the film’s beautiful images — of galaxies, of horses, of green spaces — wash over me. I enjoyed the music, which is well matched to the film’s title, but relished the sound effects even more. Clanking silverware during the wedding reception. Rumbling as “Melancholia” approaches.
All those years of reading Kierkegaard in graduate school make it easier to appreciate films steeped with existentialism. Seeing his work for the first time, I’m not at all surprised by the fact that von Trier hails from Copenhagen — or by the fact that those who try the hardest to understand “Melancholia” on a purely cognitive level leave the film feeling frustrated.
Viewers can read all sorts of messages into this movie. That the smartest among us are the most depressed, because they see the things others miss. That human attempts to tame or control the wild are futile. That those who seem weakest sometimes possess the greatest strength.
Maybe it’s a tale of von Trier’s own stuggles with depression. It’s possible, I suppose, that the peace experienced by the depressed sister as the end seems near is meant to mirror the “happy” mood sometimes ascribed to people whose newfound calm is actually a red flag of their resolve to commit suicide.
I have a nagging feeling that the real star of “Melancholia” is “Antares.” It’s the red star in the constellation “Scorpius” that seems to disappear early in the film. If I find myself moved in coming days to explore more about the movie’s possible meanings, that’s where I’ll start.
Note: The next “Talk Cinema” screening takes place Wed., Dec 7 (a change from the usual Tuesday night). Click here to learn more.
Coming up: A chip off the old bassoon?, Through a prism…