What's complicated about reviewing Manifesto is that the philosophies about art that the Rosenfeld expresses are in direct opposition to analyzing or dissecting the meaning within, and in fact, the movie itself seems to exist in opposition with those philosophies as well. Quoting Lars von Trier's Dogme 95 movement, Blanchett's schoolteacher warns her students that the director must never be credited. Various manifestos underline the lack of originality and true fearlessness or courage in art, while attempting something the audience is likely to find fresh and ballsy. As a critic, it's not often that one watches a movie that already seems to have prepared a rebuttal against the things you might end up writing, but here's one example.
Is there a method to this madness -- a simple one, not a deeper philosophical one? At a glance, the characters that Blanchett plays in a given segment appear to align with the basic tenor of the manifesto she's been given to read. The bitter, arguably nihilistic speech about Dadaism is a mourner giving a speech at a funeral. An exasperated choreographer yells about her ideas about the freedom and passion that art should have behind it. A puppeteer, holding an exquisitely crafted and uncanny puppet of herself, talks about surrealism. There is a desperation, perhaps, to the woman who rattles off her demands of art at grace before dinner. It will surprise no one that Blanchett plays all of these roles with wit and verve, even during the moments when the contrivance of having her play so many parts feels nakedly contrived or like too easy of a hook to hang the movie on.
Since the vignettes do not technically connect into any sort of plot, but rather an assembled point of view on art and creation, there isn't much to analyze without falling into the movie's trap. The manifesto in Manifesto is not really for me to deconstruct, but for the viewer to listen to themselves. Rosenfeld deserves credit for making each one of the film's various little universes feel real and distinct, including surreal ones such as some sort of mysterious scientist in a hazmat suit working in a facility that seems to house the obelisk from 2001 (in keeping with the film's various quoted passages suggesting that all artists are thieves, and nothing is original). If there's anything that gives me pause, it's that the movie softens its self-critique a bit in the last five minutes, but beyond that, Manifesto is a pretty fascinating self-reflexive art installation, one that can now be brought into the home and experienced anywhere.
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