A selection of New Yorkers got a taste of Armageddon on a larger scale Monday night, when Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” had its premiere at Lincoln Center’s New York Film Festival. Unsurprisingly, von Trier, whose last NYFF selection the 2009 “Antichrist” caused a man to have a seizure in my particular screening, did not limit himself to transit crises or mundane weather conditions in his work, described in press notes as “a psychological disaster film.” Instead, the haunting, stunningly shot movie has Kirsten Dunst as Justine, a young woman celebrating her marriage to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) as a planet called Melancholia is on a path towards hitting Earth. Set in the lavish mansion owned by Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland), the wedding festivities soon devolve into a mess of tense words and fractured relations, as anxiety mounts over Melancholia’s approach.
Kirsten Dunst at the screening
After the screening at Alice Tully Hall that had viewers behind me muttering “Jesus” and “Oh god” and later “I don’t understand,” Dunst, Gainsbourg and Skarsgard gathered on stage for a Q&A.
From left: Alexander Skarsgard; Charlotte Gainsbourg
Sample audience questions (spoiler alert):
Why did you cover Kiefer Sutherland with the hay?
Gainsbourg: To hide him.
What is the 19th hole?
Gainsbourg: I don’t know.
Are you going to miss these characters and what parts would you miss the most?
In unison: NO.
The cast was also asked how they went about preparing for such a fantastical endeavor, to which Skarsgard, whose Michael is mainly in the first half of the film replied, “I don’t even see the planet in the movie so I didn’t do shit.” (Dunst concocted a backstory wherein she might be from Melancholia, explaining her seeming sixth sense about its movement throughout the film.)
Also, how exactly does one shoot a scene in which the world is ending?
“I thought we nailed it [on the first try],” said Gainsbourg.
“Me, too,” added Dunst.
“But then Lars said, ‘I want to shoot the scene again tomorrow and maybe the next day and the next day,’” recalled Gainsbourg. “It was torture. And I enjoyed it.”
Later, the cast headed to Stone Rose Lounge for the after-party where they were joined by Ezra Miller, Jonathan Groff, Michael Stipe, Stella Schnabel and Kathleen Turner. (It was probably a blessing that the evening’s main sponsor was DeLeon Tequila—we had all just watched the world end, after all.) Dunst hung out with pals Kate Mulleavy and Nate Lowman, while Gainsbourg reflected on making a film whose details she couldn’t really explain.
From left: Jonathan Groff; Ezra Miller
“I’m getting used to that because on ‘Antichrist’ it was the same. As soon as I was asking Lars about something I didn’t understand in the script he would say, ‘Make it up yourself. I don’t know why I wrote this,’” she said. “I get the impression that he wants you to feel insecure about not knowing what’s going on. It’s true also that it doesn’t really matter if you don’t understand everything.”
And that whole bit about the shoot being semi-torturous?
“In a way, I am masochistic,” she shrugged.
Photos: Dave Allocca/Starpix