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I did some tidying work on Why Should We Not Sing? yesterday, enough to draw a couple of parts into line and tighten up the instrumentation a little, losing the oboe and horn and remaining with three each of winds and strings plus a harp in the middle. We might also lose the soloist in the final movement, but that was always an optional extra, so would not require any rewriting, just a couple of clicks of the mouse and a strike of the “delete” key.

With things calming down a little I took some time off towards the end of the day and settled down to a game of Dungeon Lords, one of Vlaada Chvatil’s creations, and one I find more convoluted than his Dungeon Petz, but more involving as well. I have not done enough board gaming of late, so it was a pleasure to get back down to some serious play. Well, I say it was a pleasure, but I failed to pay my dungeon taxes and, by game’s end, had not even acquired enough points to earn my Dungeon Licence. To say I was upset would be to put it mildly, but there is always next time, I guess. I do prefer Petz to Lords, though, even if I can feel the latter calling me back.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever, or a couple of hours in this case.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever, or a couple of hours in this case.

Gaming done, nosh noshed, we watched A Muppet Christmas Carol (it’s that time of year) and 3:10 To Yuma (the remake), a very fine Western which sees Russell Crowe perfectly cast as somebody who needs to growl his way through the film. There is much more to it than that, though, and I must admit that I really enjoyed it.

The film to stay with me over my recent watching, however, has been Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, an offering which left me a little bit quizzical at first, but which has sat nagging at the back of my mind ever since, like my favourite film, Tarkovsky’s Solaris. Von Trier is – how shall we put this? – a challenging character, but he can be relied upon to put out something genuinely engrossing, and clearly has the reputation to draw actors such as Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling and Kirsten Dunst (yes, the one from Spiderman!) under his wing.

Melancholia refers not only to Dunst’s character’s state of mind, but also to a rogue planet drawn inexorably towards Earth, and the film is thus both a character study (or, to be more precise, a study of characters) with a light layer of sci-fi. I was genuinely taken aback, however, to find such a genuine depiction of the state of depression in this film, for Dunst, while happy on her wedding day, gradually retreats into a state of calm inwardness via intensely dark moods. She is not, however, somebody raging and cursing, as Hollywood would probably make it, but an accurate depiction of real life, when the ability to do anything has gone. Her infinitely patient sister (Gainsbourg) is also touchingly real, and anybody who has any experience with mental illness will surely find this a deeply sympathetic treatment, whether sufferer or carer. Coinciding with Dunst’s journey is the gradual stripping away of characters until she is left only with the ones who do not judge her. It is subtly and wonderfully done.

What really stays with me, though, is the cinematography and the images. I know that Trier and his Dogmé chums would see this film as a long, long way from that aesthetic, but, my word, it is staggeringly beautiful, one particular scene where the two sisters stand apart, each under their own celestial body and bathed in its own colour being, well, perfect, but it is the opening sequence which endures. This section of the film, set to the beginning of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is literally breathtaking – I found myself actually holding my breath – and is the part of the film which comes back to me as I close my eyes and wait for sleep to arrive.

Three separate bodies, all subtly related

Three separate bodies, all subtly related

The opening is shot in ultra-slow motion, and is a set of initially confusing snapshots – a horse falling, a woman and child on a golf course, electricity rising towards the sky – which come to have relevance later in the film. The one which I am continually drawn back to, however, is Dunst in her wedding gown, striving forwards while being held by vines, an aching depiction of what we will later know is her mental state. I cannot get this opening out of my mind.

Granted, if you like violence without grief and characters with snappy one-liners you had better stick to Hollywood. Melancholia is slow and deep and, I suspect, something to reward repeated viewing, probably great, possibly masterful.HeldByVines