We haven’t seen either film yet, but ever since we heard that Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life were both screening in competition at Cannes this year, we’ve assumed they’d be an epic match-up. Both are hotly anticipated, beautifully shot movies by world-class auteurs with polarizing histories, and it seemed like each would tackle ambitious, cosmic themes. Now, the lucky souls who got to see them have confirmed our suspicions: almost every review we’ve read of Melancholia (and so far they’re hard to find, considering they’ve been drowned out by the noise around von Trier’s publicity-courting “Nazi” comments) makes some mention of The Tree of Life. Critics are split on which they prefer, but the early verdict seems to be that fans of both directors — and moviegoers in general — have much to look forward to. Read what the critics have to say about Malick vs. von Trier after the jump.
“I think I prefer Melancholia to Terrence Malick’s much-debated The Tree of Life, but to have two new career-defining works from major film artists that can plausibly be defended as cinematic and philosophical masterpieces in the same festival is close to miraculous.”
“Unlike on board that ship, however, there are no life rafts; nor is there a Bruce Willis to blow it apart before it hits; nor, as might by implied by The Tree of Life, another Cannes entry to contemplate the grand scope of things, is any state of exaltation or grace possible. For von Trier, there is no meaning, higher purpose or anything resembling Godliness, just obliteration and the void.”
“Melancholia arrives two mornings after the premiere of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, offering von Trier’s meditation on The End in direct contrast to Malick’s meditation on The Beginning. And suddenly, the Cannes Film Festival is electric with competing critical passions. Is there room in the cosmos of ardent Tree of Life supporters to acknowledge the genius of von Trier? Having experienced the fresh, focused vision and the tormented humanity spilling forth from von Trier, do those same vociferous defenders think Malick’s screensaver-friendly imagery and emotionally distant style still pack as much punch? I hitch my critic’s stars to LVT.”
“Similar to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, this film deals with big ideas about life (on Earth) and our death, while focusing on a much more contained storyline and specific characters. Unfortunately, I found the storyline in Melancholia to be without much meaning, whereas in the 48 hours since seeing Tree of Life, I’ve already been thinking about how every moment plays into the bigger concept and visuals in that film. It’s just not the same here and while the journey we’re taken on with von Trier is by no means boring, it doesn’t seem like it has that much to say about our death, or the apocalypse.”
“Earlier this week at Cannes, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life chronicled nothing less than the conception, birth, travails and glories of earthly existence. Von Trier’s Melancholia answers Malick’s spiritual inquiry by saying, well, it was a stupid planet anyway, with a limited shelf life. Yet von Trier, a serious man when he isn’t being the most ill-advised ironic wiseacre this side of a visiting planet, creates startling moments of beauty.”
The Tree of Life trailer: