Manifesto is a one woman show that is a visually delicious and epic sight for the audience to consume. Its dystopian and unfamiliar settings, often viewed in slow shots from high above, give the audience time to observe and absorb without becoming a voyeur. Grandiose, monumental scenes of derelict buildings suddenly cut to the intimate, heavily brown tones of the kitchen, and a banal family life. Indeed, stale and strange images are seen throughout.
Cate Blanchett, playing thirteen roles, is a tool to expose the ideas of the multiple manifestos she recounts, and despite showing a lack of emotion she still creatively forms unique and very different characters through her strength as an actress. Not only this but the film, despite its pretence, carries a lot of humour throughout.
The film is an overload of visual situations to observe and complex language to listen to, yet it’s handled delicately through its continued stillness. There’s enough tension that neither the film nor Blanchett ever risk boredom. It’s energetic, pushing and pulling the viewer into very different visions. The narrative leaves little room for anticipation, the film acts like a game of solitaire, and slowly reveals pieces of each of the thirteen manifestos in such an intricate way, that means the polarising scenes flow into one another with the continuous use of the overhead shot and the smoothness of the music.
Cate Blanchett’s multiple roles – mother, news presenter, alcoholic, school teacher – ultimately raise issues of female representation of women on screen, as this film rarely seems to fall into the hands of the male gaze. She is all these characters and none simultaneously. Blanchett should be applauded for making these often dry, complex texts humourous and entertaining but also collapsing their predominantly male voice, removing their density and using her female voice to dominate and parade the ideas that underpin societal issues.
Through exploiting contrasting modes of dialogue – saying a prayer before eating a meal, teaching young students, reporting a news programme, a voiceover in a lift – the artist manifestos are removed from their isolating academic context and thrown into the everyday. Director Julien Rosefeldt is successful in dusting off the weight of art history on these manifestos. Despite this film being complex in listening to the different arguments and information thrown at you from Blanchett’s narration, it is not meant to be fully understood; rather, it aims to leave the audience contemplating the things that they have heard.
In the cinema, it is a true spectacle, but it has also tellingly been shown as a multi-part installation in galleries and film festivals. Separating Blanchett’s characters, however, it wouldn’t have enough breathing space to succeed in the way it does as a feature film. Blanchett herself comments on the interesting similarities in the manifestos’ discourse which shines through by the cutting from scene to scene and going and forth between them.
Whatever your knowledge of artist manifestos, this thoroughly challenging and innovative film is highly recommended.
Image: Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst / Courtesy of FilmRise