Cannes Film Festival: 'Melancholia' and 'Hors Satan'

Both Melancholia and Hors Satan conjure a long-building sense of foreboding, though they lead to very different resolutions.


Director: Lars Von Trier
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Brady Corbet, Cameron Spurr, Charlotte Rampling, Jesper Christensen, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier
Rated: NR
Studio: Zentropa Entertainments
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-05-18 (Cannes Film Festival)

Hors Satan (Outside Satan)

Director: Bruno Dumont
Cast: David Dewaele, Alexandra Lemaitre, Valérie Mestdagh, Sonia Barthelemy
Rated: NR
Studio: 3B Productions
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-05-16 (Cannes Film Festival)

The opening of Melancholia presents a series of shots over an ominous Wagner soundtrack: a horse struggling on the ground; Charlotte Gainsbourg running with a boy in her arms; Kirsten Dunst floating in a river, wearing a wedding dress; and two planets, first passing each other, then colliding in space. Compelling but also puzzling, the sequence didn't prepare anyone at Cannes for Lars von Trier's announcement at his press conference: "I understand Hitler," he said, "I sympathize with him a bit."

The declaration was sensational, and responses and his

apology were predictable, but the film takes its own course, sometimes stunning and, at least at its start, familiar. Melancholia's story begins with a typical dysfunctional family wedding: Justine (Dunst) deals with what seems like clinical depression even as she prepares to marry Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), as her mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) dominates the proceedings. And while Justine's sister Claire (Gainsbourg) maintains her poise, her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) is increasingly upset.

As you're anticipating a confrontation, Justine begins compulsively rearranging art books on display in her sister's house, to showcase images by Bruegel, Caravaggio, and John Everett Millais, specifically Ophelia, a painting that reminds us of Justine's appearance at film's start. By its end, as planet Melancholia approaches on its collision course with Earth, it's Claire and John who are unnerved, and Claire, so apparently antisocial, has in fact been behaving appropriately.

The film's long-building sense of foreboding is as effective as that of von Trier's previous entry at Cannes, Antichrist, achieved in part by shooting the "diabolical" woods with a parabolic lens. Both films eventually, and unfortunately, give away all the answers as to the source and potency of evil. Antichrist introduced a fox who informed us, "Chaos reigns!" as the audience chuckled. In Melancholia, Justine tells us that humanity is "evil," that "we are alone in the universe," and that no one will miss us after we are gone. The mystery she embodies -- how can she know what she knows, including the number of beans in a jar in the wedding lottery? -- is short-lived, however. The collision does not tell us anything more, visually or philosophically, than what we've seen before, say, in Sarah Connor's apocalyptic dream in Terminator 2. The answers offered here seem just as superfluous and unserious as Trier's press conference bombshell.

Hors Satan

Another sort of evil inhabits the marshes in Bruno Dumont's Hors Satan (Outside Satan), but here there are no simple answers. Much of the film takes place amid a deserted landscape, where a sullen girl (Alexandra Lematre) and a hermit (David Deawale) she's befriended wander about and pray together. The hermit acts as a healer (or possibly an exorcist) for the local villagers, yet his saintly role is tainted by a penchant for violence. To protect the girl, he kills her abusive stepfather and then severely beats a guard who makes unwanted advances at her.

As bodies pile up, other nefarious individuals appear, making us wonder who, if anyone, is the film's Satan, or if there is an "outside." The divide between good and evil is constantly moving -- the film's stable feature is that empty landscape at la Côte d’Opale, near de Boulogne sur Mer. The girl, the only one who appears categorically innocent, seems under the spell of her protector, which doesn't bode well for her purity going forward.

The film's moral ambiguity is of a piece with Dumont's previous work. A onetime philosophy teacher, he spends little time in the film's press notes discussing plot, and quite a bit talking about the setting and the interactions between the actors, Deawale a Dumont film veteran and Lematre a first-time actress. Such lack of illumination mirrors the film's. Neither as vivid nor as explicit as von Trier's film, Hors Satan nevertheless conjures an anticipation of evil that never lets up its hold on the audience.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.