Words

Ed Gibbs

Manifesto – first look review

Cate Blanchett goes hell for leather in this unapologetically arty film about art.

Being cast as 13 different characters in the same movie would be a dream for any actor world their salt. Few, though, could pull off such an almighty task with the same degree of flair and panache as Cate Blanchett. In Manifesto she appears to have been game for just about anything, offering up some well-timed, light-hearted flourishes in an often hard-to-access film.

German video artist Julian Rosefeldt’s adaptation of his own 2015 multi-screen installation is ambitious to say the least. At times, it labours long and hard over the meaning, importance and, well, art of art – it will no doubt test the patience of audiences less inclined to embrace the anarchic, freewheeling nature of it all. Blanchett jumps between wildly different characters (and accents, often in voiceover) with glee, delivering a series of monologues that question, celebrate and chastise different aspects of the art world in equal measure. Is it pretentious twaddle, worthy arthouse fair or something outrageously playful and experimental, designed to challenge and defy audience expectations?

Some recurring sequences, such as a homeless character dredging through a waste disposal site, are virtually incomprehensible. Others are more engaging and obviously entertaining. A mother sermonising over grace before a family dinner (with Blanchett’s real-life husband, Andrew Upton, making a rare on-screen appearance), and a mourner espousing the virtues of Dadaism, are a riot – both characters elevate the piece beyond the confines of the art crowd. Another, a Russian choreographer, espouses the virtues of Fluxus to a dance troupe, all dressed like an army of young aliens. Elsewhere, a model maker makes up a miniature version of herself backstage.

The most playful scene of all, though, sees two “Cates” debating the nature of art within a ficticious TV news environment – one, a redheaded TV newscaster, the other a blonde reporter on location on a news feed, standing under staged wet conditions. Only a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed rock chick persona feels a little forced, even self-conscious, in its execution. To try and make sense of it all – and find out where all the monologues come from – you’ll have to wait until the final credits.

What’s most impressive, beyond Blanchett’s tour de force performance(s), is the fact that the whole thing was apparently shot in just 12 days, in and around Berlin. It is exquisitely photographed by Christoph Krauss and scored by Nils Frahm and Ben Lukas Boysen. Only time will tell what becomes of this curious film. It is difficult to see it having much of a theatrical run though – something both director and star (and potential investors) are surely well aware of. Viewed in this light, as a piece of art-oriented cinema, Manifesto confidently fulfils its ambitious intent with ease. And it’s great fun – if you can get into it.

Published 24 Jan 2017

Tags: Cate Blanchett

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