You should know in advance what you are going to get from “Manifesto”, a challenging but thought-provoking arthouse film presenting a bunch of many different ideas and messages via a series of manifestos. While it goes without saying that you can casually watch it for entertainment, the movie is constantly interesting thanks to its dexterous mix of text and visual, and it surely helps that it is anchored by another virtuosic turn from one of the greatest actresses of our time.
Here in this film, Cate Blanchett plays more than 10 figures for delivering 13 manifestos, nearly all of them are the textual collages of around 60 manifestos selected by director/producer/writer Julian Rosefeldt. The selected manifestos are from various figures ranging from Karl Max to Jim Jarmusch, and, as an inconsequential amateur film critic, I certainly was amused by a section titled “Film”, whose manifesto consists of the words from not only Jarmusch but also Lars von Trier and Werner Herzog.
In the section titled “Situationism”, Blanchett appears as an angry homeless guy who has a lot to say about capitalism, and she is impressive to say the least while completely immersing herself into her role. After all, she previously amazed us as playing one of several personas of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” (2007), and I was not so surprised to learn later that Rosefeldt actually discussed with her on her uncanny performance in that film while meeting her for his project.
And then she keeps impressing us more as deftly moving from one section to another. In “Futurism”, she appears as a cool-headed stockbroker, and there is a wonderful visual moment to behold after the manifesto of this section is phlegmatically delivered by her on the soundtrack. In case of “Architecture”, she looks quite dowdy in comparison as a woman working in a garbage incineration plant, and the mundane work process in the garbage incineration plant makes a rather ironic contrast to the accompanying manifesto.
In case of the section involved with a scientist, titled “Suprematism/Constructivism”, it provides a couple of interesting visual moments to reflect on. At one point, we observe Blanchett and others walking around in some big research facility, and we later get a surreal moment which is apparently inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). As watching that moment, I was a bit baffled, but, at least, I appreciated how willing the movie is to try anything to intrigue and engage its audiences.
While you may often struggle to absorb and understand those numerous statements on art and ideology in the film, Rosefeldt keeps things rolling with a bit of humor, and that is particularly exemplified well by “Pop Art”, the most droll section of the film which is solely based on the manifesto by an American sculptor named Claes Oldenburg. At the beginning, we see an affluent upper middle-class housewife played Blanchett preparing for a dinner for her and her family, and then the mood becomes quite absurd as she uses Oldenburg’s manifesto for the prayer before the dinner. As she keeps enumerating many things associated with art, her husband and children understandably come to feel awkward, and this section eventually ends with a deliciously naughty moment to be savored.
In case of “Stridentism/Creationism”, Blanchett goes for a little more wildness while appearing as a sour punk rock musician, and she later goes for more chuckles while appearing as a fastidious choreographer with a campy foreign accent in “Fluxus/Merz/Performance”. Although the mood becomes more somber when she appears as a puppeteer in “Surrealism/Spatialism”, Blanchett strikes the right balance between humor and poignancy, and you may also enjoy watching a bunch of various puppet figures in the background.
I also like the wryly comic mood of “Conceptual Art/Minimalism”, where Blanchett plays not only a TV anchor but also a reporter reporting on conceptual art. I must confess that I do not know that much about conceptual art, but I was tickled nonetheless by Blanchett’s double performance in this section nonetheless, and that somehow led to me to some reflection on art.
Although I continued to struggle a lot to understand everything presented in the movie, it still held my attention when it eventually arrived at “Film”, to which my mind quickly responded with eagerness because of its subject. In a classroom pack with little boys and girls, Blanchett sternly but warmly lectures a bit about filmmaking, and her utmost serious attitude brings extra hilarity to this section.
Overall, “Manifesto” is the cerebral tapestry of many different artistic/philosophical/ideological perspectives, so it certainly requires some patience from you, but it is still worthwhile to watch on the whole thanks to not only Rosefeldt’s skillful direction but also Blanchett’s undeniable talent. Since she drew our attention for the first time with her Oscar-nominated breakthrough turn in Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth” (1998), she has been always compelling to watch during last two decades, and “Manifesto” is certainly another interesting moment in her exceptional career. If you have admired her career and talent like I have, this is surely something you should not miss at any chance, and I assure you that you will not regret at all.