What’s showing now? Aspen’s Academy Screenings | AspenTimes.com

What’s showing now? Aspen’s Academy Screenings

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Christian Geisnaes/Courtesy Magnolia PicturesKirsten Dunst, left, and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in "Melancholia," showing Friday at Harris Hall in Aspen Film's Academy Screenings series.

ASPEN – A look at Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings series, which continues through Sunday at Harris Hall.

“Melancholia opens with a spectacular visual sequence, a long montage of planets, skies and landscapes set to grand operatic music. The segment is as meaningful as it is beautiful, signaling that the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier is, as usual, about to tackle life’s all-encompassing questions.

From there, the film moves into comic mode. This time it’s a long sequence of a limousine trying to negotiate its way up a steep, winding, muddy road. The limo stutters back and forth; the couple in back, in wedding finery, laughs, then takes turns at the wheel and helping to push.

Thus ends the entertainment portion of our evening. “Melancholia” then moves into its third segment, this one the longest of all – a descent into family, marital, social, personal and universal gloom that is, yes, all-encompassing. The bride from the limo is Justine, who, though smiling a moment ago, is now being engulfed by depression. Her bitch of a mother (Charlotte Rampling) alone has probably caused Justine enough emotional anguish for a lifetime, but her anxiety is amplified by guilt over the fact that her brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland) has paid for the lavish wedding. Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) tends to her, but Justine is beyond saving.

Oh yes, “Melancholia” is also a sci-fi film. Lingering over the drama is a planet, Melancholia, that has been hiding, but is now apparently on a collision course with Earth.

Gloomy? Oh, most definitely. A gloom worth subjecting oneself to? Cautiously, yes. The jumpy camera work in the early going is annoying at best, literally nauseating for some. The pace is often grindingly tedious. Yet there is a good chance you will leave the theater not only haunted, but in awe. And almost certainly reconsidering whatever you may have thought about Kirsten Dunst.

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Whereas “Melancholia” signaled, with its title, exactly what was to come, this one sounds like a walk in the sun. A kid with a bike – what could be more pleasant?

But “The Kid with a Bike” comes from the Belgian brothers the Dardennes, Luc and Jean-Pierre. So this time, the despair is in French. Cyril is an 11-year-old who, as it turns out, does not have his bike. It has disappeared, along with his father. Cyril goes in search of both, unwilling to believe that he could be parted from either. What he finds instead is Samantha, a warm and generous hairdresser who takes him in. This doesn’t lift the darkness – Cyril isn’t able to take the kindness to heart – but the tone is sympathetic, the Dardennes infuse the story with humanity and quiet poetry, and the story moves at a surprisingly brisk clip.

Glenn Close is at the reins here, co-producing, co-writing, and starring as a woman in 19th century Ireland forced to live for decades as a man, a proper hotel butler. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the film features Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska and Brendan Gleeson.

Meryl Streep stars as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in a biopic that focuses on the price Thatcher, the U.K.’s only female P.M., paid for power. A big change of pace for director Phyllida Lloyd – her last film was the loopy musical “Mamma Mia!” – “The Iron Lady” co-stars Jim Broadbent and Richard E. Grant.

Against the odds, this French production, in black and white, with essentially no dialogue, is being considered a prime contender for the best picture Oscar. Directed by Michael Hazanavicius, “The Artist” focuses on a silent-film-era leading man (Jean Dujardin), not adapting well to the changes in cinema.

In director Alexander Payne’s first film since 2004’s “Sideways,” George Clooney stars as a prominent Hawaiian landowner thrust into a new role – taking charge of his children.

stewart@aspentimes.com

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