Art & Culture

The question we have to ask – as with all Lars von Trier films – is this a) pretentious piffle, or b) a serious and important film? Answer, one third PP and two thirds SAIP. It’s a Tale Of Two Sisters, aka, The End Of The World as We Know It.

The film opens with a series of semi-still life montages, not unlike the framing chapters in Breaking The Waves, but with images that often echo famous paintings, and/or prefigure what happens later in the film. Then we start with Chapter 1:Justine. She is a young and beautiful bride played by Kirsten Dunst, who is arriving late for her own wedding party with handsome new husband Alexander Skarsgaard. Her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is mightily pissed off, but not half as much as Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) who is hosting and paying for the event.

At the dinner, matters are further complicated by the women’s parents, John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling, now separated, but joined in the fact that they are both an almighty pain in the arse. But the biggest thing hanging over all of them, literally and metaphorically, is that a new planet has appeared on the horizon, and there are those who think that it is going to crash into Earth. Or in once case, they know that’s going to happen. Whether this accounts for Justine’s increasingly unsettled and unmarital behaviour over the next few hours is another matter.

Now obviously this is not some kind of Armageddon movie, where Bruce Willis and his crew shoot off into space to divert the deadly lump, but the question remains, what sort of film is it? A provocation, obviously, since that’s what Lars does. And a beautiful one at that since, say what you like about the guy, he has a stunning visual eye. But is it really about planets colliding, the relationship between two sisters, or something completely different – such as a ruse to get film critics to discuss what it’s all about? I’m a little surprised that Kirsten Dunst won the prize for Best Actress at Cannes. Her growing gloom almost overwhelms the film, and requires her to do little more than look very tired. As a fully paid up member of the Charlotte Gainsbourg Is The Perfect Woman fan club, I would argue that she is the saving grace of the film, though Kiefer is surprisingly good for a man who’s spent so many years chasing terrorists.

Given that the cinemas are not overwhelmed with exceptional films at the moment, it’s certainly well worth your attention, though if I say it’s a bit more cheerful than We Need To Talk About Kevin, you’ll understand that this is a very restricted compliment.


Philip Raby

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