Thursday, August 17, 2017

Movie Review: Manifesto

Manifesto *** / *****
Directed by: Julian Rosefeldt.
Written by: Julian Rosefeldt.
Starring: Cate Blanchett (Various). 
Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto is one of those challenging movies that you have to accept on its own terms, or not at all. I cannot say the film “works” in a traditional sense, because the film isn’t interested in “working” in that way. It is a film in which its star – the great Cate Blanchett – plays 13 different characters, delivering 12 different Manifesto’s from history – mostly centered on art and the artist. Rosefeldt is a visual artist by trade, and the film started out as an art installation, and was later edited in the form we see it now. It’s a thought provoking mess of a film – humorous and self-important, brilliantly acted and staged, and yet confused and messy by design. It’s an odd film to be – maybe not a good one, but certainly not a bad one. Its one-of-a-kind whatever it is.
Casting Blanchett in these 13 different “roles” is important. I’m not sure there is another actress (maybe Tilda Swinton) who could have pulled this off, or that you would want to see attempt to. The word chameleon is overused a lot when discussing actors, but it’s fitting for Blanchett, who really does disappear into her roles. She’s perfectly suited for this role because she has always excelled at playing characters who themselves are playing characters – characters who are in essence putting on one face for those around her, but allowing the audience to see something different (this is one of the reasons why she works so well with Todd Haynes in I’m Not There, playing Bob Dylan at his most self-involved, and in Carol, as a closeted lesbian, pretending to be a perfect 1950s housewife).
In Manifesto, Blanchett plays everything from a houseless derelict screaming Karl Marx’s words through a megaphone, to a prim and proper elementary school teacher “teaching” Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 rules to her students. In another segment, she’s a news anchor and the “reporter on the street” she is interviewing about conceptional art. Or she’s a drunken punk in a bar, a housewife saying prayers around a Thanksgiving meal, a figure out of what seems like a dystopian future, a woman making puppets, the gallery host at an expensive art gallery, a choreographer upset with her dancers, a struggling single mother, etc. The various real life manifestos she is delivering are devoid of context, often contradict each other, and usually have little to nothing to do with how Rosefeldt has chosen to stage them, or how Blanchett has chosen to deliver them.
At this point, you may well be asking yourself what the purpose of all this is, or what it all means. Those are perfectly reasonable question to ask, and I don’t have adequate answers to them. I’m not going to trying to pretend that I even understand Manifesto completely, because I don’t. If the whole thing sounds like a pretentious art exercise, I think you’re partially right – except that I think Rosefeldt and Blanchett know that as well. There is something incredibly pretentious about manifestos in themselves, and the film recognizes that and pokes fun of that.
I’m not sure if Manifesto is a good film or not – but I do know that no matter what it is, it is by design, and is one-of-a-kind. Even if that doesn’t quite work, is that itself worth celebrating?

No comments:

Post a Comment