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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The film "Melancholia" caused not one, but three sensations at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The first two were for the film itself and for its star, Kirsten Dunst. Both were widely admired. The third was for an ill-advised joke involving Hitler made by director Lars von Trier. This did not keep Dunst from winning Best Actress and our reviewer, Bob Mondello, says it shouldn't keep people from seeing "Melancholia," either.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The first eight minutes of "Melancholia" is so breathtaking, it's hard to imagine how the director can possibly follow it. Think of it as an overture, not of sounds, though a Wagner prelude is soaring in the background, but of rapturous, slow-motion images, a kind of dreamscape of what director Lars von Trier sees when he contemplates the end of the world. Seriously, the end of the world.

He sees a manicured garden where something's slightly off and then you realize what's wrong. Every shrub has two shadows. He sees a bride struggling through a forest as tree roots tug at her gown, a horse falling back on its haunches, birds dropping from the sky, a woman sinking in a golf green that's turned to quicksand and then, finally, he sees two enormous planets swirling in a tragic, slow-motion dance of death.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONDELLO: All of those images figure in the story that follows of Justine, a bride who's being tugged in real life, not by tree roots, but by depression. Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, rarely stops smiling as her storybook wedding goes off the rails, but her eyes go blank as her parents offer toasts, her father knocking his ex-wife, her mother knocking the whole institution they're celebrating.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MELANCHOLIA")

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: (as Gaby) You've arranged a spectacular party. 'Til death do us part and forever and ever. I just have one thing to say. Enjoy it while it lasts.

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG: (as Claire) Why did you even bother coming?

MONDELLO: That last voice is Justine's sister - calm, sensitive Claire, who keeps everyone around her sane, though not for much longer, because as we crash Justine's wedding reception, director Lars von Trier is preparing a crash that's more literal - of planets.

Justine's the first to notice the speck in the sky that turns out to be the planet Melancholia, hurtling towards earth on an apparent collision course. When it gets closer, it will cast those second shadows in the garden and cast a pall over usually optimistic Claire, though not over her science-minded husband.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MELANCHOLIA")

GAINSBOURG: (as Claire) They say that it will hit...

KIEFER SUTHERLAND: (as John) Not the real scientists. Now, the prophets of doom, they'll write whatever they can to attract attention, but the real scientists, all of them agree, Melancholia is just going to pass right in front of us.

MONDELLO: Claire is undone by the planet's approach, but Justine feels vindicated and becomes strangely calm and self-possessed towards the end of the film, as does director von Trier, who is, himself, famously depressive and misanthropic and who, more or less, lets Justine respond, not just to the Claires of the world, but to everyone who's ever wished after one of his throbbingly downbeat movies that he would just cheer up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MELANCHOLIA")

KIRSTEN DUNST: (as Justine) Life on Earth is evil.

GAINSBOURG: (as Claire) There may be life somewhere else.

DUNST: (as Justine) But there isn't.

GAINSBOURG: (as Claire) How do you know?

DUNST: (as Justine) We're alone. Life is only on Earth and not for long.

MONDELLO: While life's here, though, von Trier sure makes it gorgeous to look at. Dunst stretched out nude on a riverbank, oddly ecstatic in the midnight glow of a planet come to destroy everything she knows, a planet that can't come soon enough for her, but that I kept willing away, not - I'm a little embarrassed to say - to save humanity from Melancholia, but simply to stay in this remarkable movie's presence just a little longer.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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