First Hit: Although slow and at times meandering, it stays with you long after it's over and evokes deep feelings of melancholia.
The pacing of this film is known from the get go. It is going to be a slow unwinding piece. At the very beginning we know the outcome, but because it is represented like a smooth ballet, this knowledge is almost forgotten until the very end.
The end of the world may or may not come the way it is depicted here, but the way people react to the end may be far closer in these frames than how other apocalyptic films present the end.
Justine (played by Kristen Dunst) is getting married to Michael (played by Alexander Skarsgard). They are very late on arrival to their wedding festivities in very remote country club. Claire (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) is Justine’s older sister whose very wealthy husband John (played by Kiefer Sutherland), is paying for this event.
Michael, Claire, and John all seem to be trying to manage Justine as she sways in and out of sadness, hopelessness and sparks of joy. They want her to be happy but the history is etched on their faces as to the futility of this management. Then Justine and Claire’s mom is heard from at the wedding table.
Gaby (played by Charlotte Rampling) is a severe pessimist when it comes to love and happiness. Her look tells you, that she’s disliked, or maybe hated, herself her whole life. However, there is enough going on for the audience to see that Justine’s melancholy is not only based on her upbringing by this mean spirited person. Her innate sensitivities to all that’s around her is probably a large factor in how she thinks, feels and acts.
As everything falls apart, the film's extraordinary cinematography envelops the audience into its fold for the final ride to the end.
Dunst shows us she wants to be taken seriously as an actress and and here she shows why. A very strong performance. Her fluctuations between melancholy and fleeting moments of joy and love towards others were very honest. Skarsgard, was perfect as the guy who hoped he could “save” Justine from her depressions and when he tells her he cannot believe someone so beautiful is with him, he’s right. His nuances of hopefulness and sadness were dead-on. Gainsbourg is an actress that I enjoy watching because I feel that in any moment she will explode, like dynamite. She never does but how she contains the energy in this film of being the smart squared-away sister until she realizes it is all going to end was wonderful to watch. Sutherland as Gainsbourg’s husband fit the role very well. There was enough arrogance and “how dare you” in his character which was rounded out by his obvious love and thoughtfulness towards his son. Rampling was the kicker. Her performance as the sarcastic fatalist was pitch-perfect. John Hurt as Justine and Claire’s father was the optimist in their family but he also liked his own life his way. Lars von Trier wrote and directed this film. He clearly knew how he wanted it to look and feel and he got strong performances from his choice for actors. About one third of the way through the film I thought, “jeez this is slow” and wondered “where this was going”. However, in the end it was very satisfying.
Overall: The images, thoughts about, and contemplations from this this film will stay with you for days after you see it. This is the character of a very strong film.