Anticipating Doomsday at the 49th New York Film Festival: Melancholia and 4:44 Last Day on Earth

10/06/2011 10:15 am ET | Updated Dec 06, 2011

If the world ends any time soon, as threatened for 2012, what will the last day on earth look like? That is the dominant conceit for two films in this year's New York Film Festival: Lars von Trier in his film Melancholia imagines a planet hurtling toward Earth disrupting the kind of human rituals this director is so good at skewing, and starring a fine ensemble: Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard, and Charlotte Gainsburg who starred in von Trier's last festival offering, the controversial Manderlay, with Willem Dafoe. This last is worth mentioning as Dafoe stars in Abel Ferrara's film, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, less fanciful and more rooted in the realities of a downtown New York junkie's existence.

While we ponder the imponderables of facing an abrupt irrevocable doomsday, it is worthwhile to consider the work of fine actresses: in Ferrara's film, Shanyn Leigh gives a brave performance as Dafoe's artist live in lover. His stroking her naked rump might qualify as an end of the world gesture. Anita Pallenberg on Skype is a nice touch, as is a boozy Paz de la Huerta on the street.

Kirsten Dunst is in a new phase of her career with last year's underappreciated All Good Things, and the eagerly anticipated On the Road coming up in 2012. At the Melancholia DeLeon tequila sponsored after party at the newly refurbished Stone Rose Lounge, she did not think her part in Melancholia was a career defining moment. She was happy for the distinction of working with a legend like Lars. And this being an end of the world vision, a sequel is simply out of the question.

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