Von Trier beings the end of the world to Cannes

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The end of the world is coming this Saturday, apparently, and thanks to Lars Von Trier’s apocalyptic new film "Melancholia" we have an idea about what to expect.

Screened on Thursday in Cannes, where the Danish director is hoping for his second Palme d’Or, it’s a philosophical disaster movie set at a seaside country club as the ultimate nightmare draws near.

Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as sisters who react differently to the imminent catastrophe, which Van Trier depicts as a sudden blast of wind, then a firestorm as the renegade planet Melancholia gobbles up Earth.

"To me, it’s not so much a film about the end of the world," the 55-year-old director and acknowledged depressive told reporters after a well-received morning press screening.

"It’s about a state of mind and, well, I have been in some melancholic stages of my life, so it was kind of obvious to do this," he said.

"I’m happy to be here," he added, "and we should all be happy that Melancholia is not coming until, when? The 23rd? Yes. And that would be wonderful PR for the film."

In fact, US radio evangelist Harold Camping, using a mathematical formula that has let him down before, is predicting judgment day for Saturday, May 21, the day before Cannes wraps and the Palme d’Or winner is declared.

Flaunting humor as black as his T-shirt, Von Trier was adamant when asked if he thought "Melancholia" would pick up the top prize as "Dancer in the Dark" did 11 years ago. "Yes I do," he deadpanned, "oh, yes."

But it is up against tough competition including Terrence Malick’s intense "The Tree of Life," which also features a galactic disaster — the Cretaceous-Tertiary asteroid hit that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Filmed at a Swedish castle and an 18-hole golf course — Von Trier has spoken before of his affection for links — "Melancholia" opens with a cranky wedding reception for Dunst’s melancholic character Justine.

Once the party is over, the growing specter of Melancholia the planet overshadows the relationship between Justine, her older sibling Claire and other family members.

More than a tale about the end of life on Earth, the film is a meditation on the different and often unlikely ways in which individuals manage their own fear of death.

Of Justine, a role that was initially meant for Penelope Cruz, Dunst said: "As the world is coming to an end, and the most horrible tragedy that can ever happen is approaching, she gets stronger and stronger."

Claire meanwhile cracks up while her husband, played by Keiffer Sutherland, abandons a blind faith in science that had led him to believe that Melancholia would just slide on by.

Dunst acknowledged feeling personally stronger after working with Von Trier, an auteur with a reputation for strong female roles as well as graphic sex scenes which, in "Melancholia," don’t go beyond newlywed Justine cheating on her groom in a sand trap.

"There aren’t many female roles out there where you can be crazy and vulnerable and strange and do what you want," she said.

"That’s a freedom that’s very scary, but which also gives you something kind of a braveness that I took with me to other projects after this."

Of his next project, Von Trier, deadpan again, said it would be a porn film "three or four hours long". Earlier, on the festival’s official television channel, flanked by Dunst and Gainsbourg, he teased that it would star "one of these ladies."

Von Trier is a Cannes regular, where he has picked up a total of four prizes. "Melancholia" is his tenth film to be included in the official selection of the world’s biggest film festival.

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