Julian Rosefeldt / Australia, Germany / 2015 / 95 mins
Released at the Cameo cinema on Fri 24 Nov 2017
Situationism. Dadaism. Pop Art. Those are just three of the artistic and political movements depicted in Manifesto. In this bizarre art installation-turned-film, director Julian Rosefeldt and actress Cate Blanchett leave us wondering whether we really know what art is at all.
Visually, Manifesto is a stunning piece, both in its design and the choice of Blanchett. Her face is bewitching, her myriad expressions and characterisations thrilling, and in every scene she captivates her spectators. From a choreographer to a waste disposal worker, a broker to a teacher, all 13 characterisations have carefully been crafted. Even if her accents may be a little sketchy at times, her delivery is lyrical and sincere in (and between) every character she is playing.
Naturally, there are some personas who stand out, and others who are forgotten. That is not a criticism of Blanchett’s performance, but perhaps the slight dislocation between the various movements and scenes presented. What is more, the humour that comes from the juxtaposition of what is seen and what is said is both a strength and a detriment to Rosefeldt’s ambitious project. Moments of laughter are a welcome reprieve to what can sometimes be an intimidating stream of bold and sometimes baffling declarations. However, it is likely more people will leave remembering the moment a conservative Southern mother says “shit” at the dinner table during grace, rather than the message each manifesto (in this case, Pop Art’s Claes Oldenburg’s I am for an Art) tries to effectively convey.
This is where the problem with Manifesto, itself a piece of art, lies. As impressive and entertaining as these character studies are, the voices which are the foundations of Manifesto are too often lost in the characters and their aesthetic. There is no indication of which movements are being represented in each scene; it is only in the credits that the various “isms” are revealed as they quickly rise up and above on the screen. The same way that Rosefeldt combines various manifestos in each scene, the various movements’ messages blur into one incoherent monologue.
There is also the issue derived from the fact that Rosefeldt offers little within the film regarding his intention in making it. Instead, this is offered in a short Q&A as an introduction to the movie, and its inclusion beforehand is perhaps his own recognition of the film lacking any real sense of direction or purpose. It is a disappointing aspect that was perhaps lost in its transition from an art installation to a feature film, and could so easily be rectified.
As a showcase of Blanchett’s talent, Manifesto is a marvel. If Manifesto is here to make a statement, however, it is not clear what Rosefeldt wants to say.