BFI LFF 2017: Manifesto (2015)

Blanchett and Rosefeldt have teamed up to produce a series of manifesto-based vignettes that not only ponder the subject of art, but revel in its being.

Art Imitating Life

by Gus Edgar


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Film is considered an art, and Julian Rosefeldt’s film is concerned with that fact. Manifesto
obsesses over what art means, whether it is dying, in what ways it is dying, and how art can and does reflect on life, delivered to us in 13 distinct and (largely) recognisable manifestos (duh).

Previously an art installation in Sydney, the practicalities of the whole endeavour inevitably have to be reshaped and resorted. The film loses the ability to play each vignette at the same time (including a moment where the installation syncs up), but gains an inherent cinematic quality, beautifully rendered with sweeping camera movements and linear, often Malick-esque composition. It doesn’t escape its gallery roots, and nor should it: Manifesto is entrenched in artistry.

These 13 manifestos are spliced into vignettes, each consisting of a scenario and a Cate Blanchett. Blanchett is extraordinary in the role, given the opportunity to overact again and again to (intentionally) caricaturise her characters. She’s a news reporter (in the film’s most entertaining segment), a conservative housewife (in the film’s funniest), a puppeteer (in the film’s most Kaufman-ian), an undefined scientist (in the film’s most abstract), and many more. Here she recites a manifesto not pertaining to the director or her character but to an ideology that her character loosely represents.

It’s enthralling stuff, even if the dialogue is delivered at such a sharp pace that it’s often hard to keep up. The manifestos are relayed in intelligent and appropriately dynamic situations, while the visuals alone are enough to maintain interest. A point could be made that there’s such aesthetic bravura on display that they distract from the manifesto itself – but Rosefeldt’s choice to separate the filmic interpretation from simply reading up on each manifesto is the right one. It’s the fine line separating a plodding, static affair from a film that not only expresses art, but utilises it as means of conveyance.

Manifesto screens in the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 6 and 8 October 2017.

BFI London Film Festival 2017

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