I wrote these mini-reviews at my blog’s former (and current…) home but will re-post them here because both films come out on DVD today. I saw them one after the other on a movie theatre marathon adventure in December as I scrambled to catch up on flicks before the end of the year. Anyway, enjoy!

Melancholia (2011), directed by Lars von Trier

Thanks to an outrageous media storm some may know this movie as the one by that Nazi guy. This is because von Trier made some really miscalculated jokes at Cannes about Hitler and got himself kicked out of the festival. He’s not a Nazi, he’s just European and has a weird sense of humour. Let’s move on.

I have a lot of respect for von Trier as a director. I think Breaking the Waves and Antichrist were brilliant. I’m not a nut about him but I always find his films interesting at the very least. And Melancholia is certainly that. The movie is about two sisters. One half of the film is about Justine (Kirsten Dunst) getting married while battling crippling depression and a dysfunctional family. The other half centres on Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her family as a previously undiscovered planet hurdles towards earth. Yeah.

This is a slow, methodic, beautiful, trying, devastating film. It’s hard to say I enjoyed it because this isn’t really the kind of film one “enjoys” really. I found it interesting. At times it is staggering in its power, helped in part by its use of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, one of my favourite pieces of music. It’s certainly compelling but does at times border on boring. As all von Trier films it is excessive in its “art film” sensibilities but like all von Trier films it is backed up by enough talent and ambition to justify it.

Out of all the films I saw it certainly left me with the most to think about. It’s still rolling around up there. I can’t say I loved it but I’m glad I saw it.

The Descendants (2011), directed by Alexander Payne

Because a movie about the end of the world didn’t quite get me depressed enough I decided to then go and see a movie about death. Tis the season and all that (?).

The Descendants is about a family that lives in Hawaii. The mother gets in a boating accident and is in a coma, one she will not come out of. The father, Matt King (George Clooney), collects his messed up 17-year-old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) from boarding school and, along with younger daughter Scottie, they, as a family, begin the process of telling friends and family and saying goodbye. And then Alex reveals to Matt that his wife, her mother, was having an affair.

The Descendants is a dramedy, or a comama, if you will (I might), of sorts. As can be expected from the director of Sideways and About Schmidt the film is heartfelt and somewhat desperate, but somehow touching and inspiring. It’s a very emotional movie, as one would expect from a film about family and death. But Payne has a knack of making emotional films about serious subjects without making them feel manipulative or overtly sentimental. Instead they feel cathartic. At points it is also hilarious. At others fun.

This is a beautiful movie with a touching, compelling story, full of great performances and a gentle, mature touch from director Payne.

Melancholia and The Descendants are available on DVD and Blu-ray.