Melancolia Image


By Benjamin Franz | February 8, 2022

Writer/director Jorge Xolapa’s Melancolia explores what must be the most devastating event that can happen to a parent: losing a child. I recall at my father’s funeral (he died in 2002 at the age of 49), all the grandparents looked like the vigor had been utterly removed from their bodies. They were no longer the vibrant or lively people they once were. How much more so must this agony magnify when the child hadn’t even really lived at all? This drama explores this tragedy through the lens of a school shooting.

Dolores (Alessandra Rosaldo) lost her only child in a high school shooting. A hospice nurse, Dolores does her level best to be professional and remain focused on her very difficult and trying patients. I found it striking she does home hospice care. When people reach the end stage of life, no matter their age, it’s the most arduous thing in the world to care for them. Over the course of the film, we see Dolores actively lose her ability to remain calm with those in her care.

Melancolia explores school shootings by crafting a character study of this one, particularly furious and resentful hospice nurse. From dealing with a patient’s granddaughter who has chosen to be an angel of merciful death for her grandfather to a patient who witnessed the school shooting, Dolores does not know peace. Instead, she has replaced peace and tranquility with rote rituals. For example, every morning for breakfast, she eats two hard-boiled eggs.

Dolores lost her only child in a high school shooting.”

This is a striking scene. Ordinarily, most people would eat their hard-boiled egg with salt and pepper; also, they would be careful to take small nibbles and chew methodically. Not Dolores. She takes bites of varying sizes, barely chews her breakfast, and gulps it down as dispassionately and rapidly as she can. It’s as if the food is only there to keep her going. There’s no point in salt, pepper, or even lemon juice as condiments. She simply wishes to be done with breakfast.

Due to her powerful performance, Alessandra Rosaldo captures all the facets of this perpetually mourning woman. While it’s not entirely pleasurable to witness, the actor achieves the Aristotelian ideal of serving as a conduit for the audience’s catharsis concerning school shootings. This is most notable when a therapy session at a local church goes terribly wrong due to Dolores’ lack of calm. She cannot empathize with her fellow parents. She is not interested in trying to move past this tragedy. She intends to wallow in it and the attending fury and resentment.

Melancolia is an intimate, magnificent character study of a woman coping with unimaginable loss. While I did not appreciate Xolapa’s decision to end the film with several title card questions which clearly center his politics on the matter of school shootings, it’s a regular objection of mine. Filmmakers should simply permit their stories to frame their political ideas. Learning how to think is far more important than being told what to think. Still, seek this out if you want a tragic character study to witness. 

Melacolia (2021)

Directed and Written: Jorge Xolapa

Starring: Alessandra Rosaldo, Plutarco Haza, Laura Flores, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Melacolia Image

"…an intimate, magnificent character study..."

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