The oftentimes celebrated, sometimes scorned Danish writer-director Lars von Trier has been churning out grim tales of human frailty and moral depravity for almost 20 years. From the ethereal beauty of Breaking the Waves and the minimalist wisdom of Dog­ville to the sadomasochistic howls of Anti­christ, he never seems happier than when daring audiences to figure out his message and whether the message is worth delivering.

Melancholia is a disturbing tale of personal pain juxtaposed with an eerie end-of-the-world story. The film is divided into two parts. The first focuses on Justine (Kirsten Dunst, a long way from Spider-Man), who has just married the sweet and earnest Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) and is ready to party at a ritzy castle reception hosted by her loving sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Claire's wealthy but grumpy husband, John (Kiefer Suther­land). Von Trier fans would expect this reception to be filled with anger, resentment and enough bile to fill a champagne fountain, but even they may be unprepared for the displays of cruelty conjured up by the wedding guests, who include Justine's distant father (John Hurt), her brittle and bitter mother (Charlotte Rampling) and her inhumane employer (Stellan Skarsgård).