Three great actors (Nicole, Kirsten, Colin) plus Elle leading the up-and-comers. Colin is an enemy soldier brought to their boarding school for medical help, then as he recovers his strength, things get increasingly tense until he plays an ill-advised trick on Kirsten, and the women murder him with poison mushrooms.

Lovely movie, great twisted fun. I have few deep thoughts, because my post-film reverie was interrupted by the sight of a guy wearing a Battlefield Earth t-shirt – the novel, not the film.

“Most likely Bonnie died while we were waiting in the living room.”

Narrated by the neighbor boys, still obsessed with the Lisbon girls who committed suicide 25 years earlier. I finally watched this because Coppola has a new movie in Cannes this week… I’d skipped it when it came out, because I was busy watching boy movies like Fight Club and Sleepy Hollow and Wild Wild West and 8mm. Heard it was good, meant to catch up with it, just another movie on the must-see list, never realizing it’s a stone-cold masterpiece, and now I want to watch it 100 more times.

And so we started to learn about their lives. Coming to hold collective memories of times we hadn’t experienced, we felt the imprisonment of being a girl – the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing what colors went together. We knew that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them. We knew that they knew everything about us, and that we couldn’t fathom them at all.

The Lisbon Girls: youngest Cecilia (the first to attempt suicide, and later, the first to succeed) is Hanna Hall (young Robin Wright in Forrest Gump, Michael Myers’s older sister in the bad Halloween). Lux gets the most screen time, because she is Kirsten Dunst. Older Bonnie is Chelse Swain (The Mangler 2), then Mary is AJ Cook (Final Destination 2, Wishmaster 3), and oldest Therese (Leslie Hayman). Their parents Kathleen Turner and James Woods seem protective, but not unreasonably strict, at least not until they pull all the girls out of school and order them to destroy their rock LPs after Lux stays out all night with prom date Josh Hartnett… things go downhill quickly after that.

The girls:

The parents:

Coppola does her Marie Antoinette thing, with perfect period costume design, gorgeous grainy photography, lively performances and good music, whether period-appropriate or not (Sloan songs, Air score). What I never would’ve guessed is that this movie is partly a comedy, and frequently hysterical. Doesn’t appear to have been taken very seriously at the time, only winning awards from MTV and a Casting Society, but it made the Cahiers top ten, at least.

The boys play them music over the phone:

Manilazic on letterboxd:

The boys keep on looking for clues as to what pushed Cecilia to suicide, but end up collecting objects belonging to the girls that only aggrandize their mythology: their answer is right under their noses, but their blossoming teenage male minds can’t see it. Even though the girls themselves attempt to communicate with their worshipers several times, they are always met with nothing but a blind fascination. Too mystified by the women in those girls and by the changes they see in all things as they grow up, the boys can’t connect with the Lisbon girls as human beings and see that they need help.

After Take Shelter, I’ll definitely sign up for another Jeff Nichols/Michael Shannon drama about impending doom. This one is maybe more ambitious, definitely more confusingly plotted, and has less well-defined characters and relationships. Shannon and childhood friend Joel Edgerton have kidnapped Shannon’s magic son Alton from a doomsday cult and with help from Shannon’s (ex-?)wife Kirsten Dunst and federal agent Adam Driver they take Alton to fulfill his destiny by ascending to Tomorrowland.

Pretty sure this was meant to evoke the string of psychic-child adventure stories in the late 1970’s: Firestarter (the novel, if not the film) and The Fury. In fact I was so busy trying to remember how Firestarter ends that I may have missed some details about the doomsday cult and why exactly they wanted Alton – or maybe they weren’t even sure of that themselves. If not an instant classic, at least a cool-looking, mysterious movie, full of great acting and shocking moments (I leapt when satellite parts rained down on the gas station). I always appreciate sci-fi stories that show glimpses of larger worlds and deeper mysteries than the film has the time or inclination to explain.

This counted as the kickoff to Cannes Month, since Nichols’ previous movie Mud played Cannes, and his second film of 2016 Loving is about to premiere there. Although I would’ve watched it anyway.

M. D’Angelo:

For some reason, the emotional core of this film seems to have gone missing — I can see where it’s supposed to reside, but the love Alton’s parents feel for him is oddly abstract, perhaps because E.T. seems more human than he does.

I. Vishvenetsky:

The bad guys trace [our heroes’ car] through an insurance bill left on a kitchen counter, because even Midnight Special’s sense of conspiracy is grounded in the commonplace. The only explicitly poetic line the movie allows itself is spoken by the cult’s neckless goon, played by character actor Bill Camp. Sitting in his truck, he says, “I was an electrician, certified in two states. What do I know of these things?” This is the most the viewer will ever learn about him. Midnight Special defines characters through what they can’t understand, contrasting fear of the unknown with faith in it, and flipping the supernatural into a metaphor for the everyday.

From J. Romney’s review intro:

Cinema has rarely felt so much like a son et lumière as it did in a brief period in the early ’80s, when suddenly shafts of light came shooting out of movie images, as if the screen had been slashed. It became a defining image of Steven Spielberg’s films — Close Encounters, E.T., and Poltergeist too, if you want to count that as one of his … In their purest and most glaring form, those shafts of light had something of the quality of angelic revelation about them. Certainly, you suspected that cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond and Allen Daviau had taken a close look at certain academic religious paintings of the 19th century, or perhaps at Renaissance church sculpture, with their sheaves of marble emulating beams from the divine. At any rate, it came as a shock to get the impression from these films — and with such eye-searing intensity — that cinema was a matter of light streaming directly out of the screen, rather than just bounced off it. The motif was a powerful way of restoring, if not a holy, at least an authentically otherworldly dimension to cinema.

At first it’s a weird mix of the universe-history sections of Tree of Life with the shaky-cam family drama of Rachel Getting Married, but then it starts to come together. Oh actually before that is one of Von Trier’s typically outstanding opening sequences (think the sex/death of Antichrist and the musical watercolors of Dancer in the Dark). Here he uses the extreme slow-motion style of Antichrist, creating motion portraits of what seem like Justine’s depressive dreams, with stylised versions of images we’ll see later: Claire’s yard, the new planet above Earth, pictures from art books.

Part 1: Justine
Kirsten Dunst (last seen in Marie-Antoinette, again playing spoiled and detached) just married Michael (Alexander “son of Stellan” Skarsgard), heads to the lavish reception thrown by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg of Antichrist; has any other Von Trier lead actress ever returned to work with him again?) and husband Kiefer Sutherland at his Marienbad-like estate. But despite the smiles in public, Justine keeps returning to her ultra-depressive funk, disappearing outside or to other rooms for long periods, leaving the guests waiting, much to the frustration of wedding planner Udo Kier (“she’s ruining my wedding”) who dramatically averts his eyes from the bride whenever he passes.

More drama: the girls’ dad John Hurt is pretty reasonable, but their mom Charlotte Rampling couldn’t be more awful. Justine’s employer Stellan is bugging her – at her own wedding reception – for some tagline for a client, sends round-faced new employee Brady Corbett to follow her. Laboriously, Justine makes it through all the stages and events of her wedding reception, but fucks Brady Corbett instead of her groom. I don’t think he finds out (I ran to the restroom) but nobody is happy with her at the end of the night – father and husband leave without her.

Part 2: Claire
Sometime later (the husband and parents are never mentioned again) Justine is having a crisis, summoned to Claire’s house so her sister can take care of her with homemade meatloaf. The world is all excited that a previously unknown planet has appeared from behind the sun and will pass very close to Earth – various conspiracy theorists say the two planets will collide (one of the images we saw at the start of the film). Kiefer is vocally sure that Earth is safe, and Kirsten is silently sure that it’s doomed – Claire is caught between them.

Of course it is doomed, because what better ending to a Lars Von Trier movie than the destruction of the planet, the fiery obliteration of every character we’ve met? Claire superstitiously stocks up on suicide pills and Kiefer scientifically stocks up on generators and candles and fresh water, but when Kiefer realizes that planet Melancholia has doubled back after its fly-by, he sneaks off to the stables with the pills, leaving the sisters and his son to face the end of the world together.

All set at a single location, a rich family detached from the rest of society. Interestingly IMDB says the advertising image that Stellan has assigned to Kirsten is based on a famous painting, “an unflattering portrayal of excess and spiritual emptiness in a mythical land of plenty.” Kirsten is unusually tuned-in to planet Melancholia, and seems to brighten up as it gets closer. Either she’s perversely pleased by the idea of the planet collision or is spiritually in-tune with the planet, or the cosmic intensity of her depression has summoned the planet in the first place.

C. Wisniewski:

Things go from bad to worse in ways that never seem to reflect real human behavior. … the confusing structure of Melancholia’s first half exposes Trier’s inability at approximating emotional realism. Justine is believably depressive and damaged, but nothing that happens around her has even a whiff of authenticity, first frame to last. I struggled through the wedding sequence to make sense of it all: how she knew her husband or how well or long they’d known one another; why she had agreed to marry and then why she’d decided to sabotage her wedding; and how all of this could possibly happen in one night. Episodic in the worst way, part one plays like a shrill and repetitive run-on sentence authored by someone who has a clear idea of what he wants to say but hasn’t adequately structured and packaged those ideas.

Trier’s world … seems like a lousy, sad, miserable place. I’m glad he got a chance to blow it up.