Manifesto, directed and created by Julian Rosefeldt, is a film—originally art installation—that is difficult to define. In it, Cate Blanchett takes on 13 different personas, each one reciting a different artistic or political manifesto from the likes of Karl Marx to Olga Rozanova or Lars von Trier’s Dogme 95 rules for filmmaking in an intense exploration of art and philosophy. Each speech is edited together for the film, occasionally intercutting, until the end when they all sync together. In the installation, each plays on an individual screen, though all at the same time.
“Art should not advance towards abbreviation or simplification, but towards complexity.”
Visually, it is a stunning piece. Each manifesto is declaimed in wildly varied locations ranging from the decrepit roof of an abandoned building to a family lunch table or a dreary outdoor funeral. Each space reflects a sense of emptiness, regardless of whether other people actually occupy it or not, and Blanchett builds each space with her emphatic, powerful recitations. In some cases, the locations are oddly fitting, like the Dada manifesto about the death of art being recited at a funeral. In others, the location adds a bit of irony or humor. For example, the Fluxus manifesto criticizing hierarchical culture is delivered by Blanchett as a Russian choreographer yelling at her dancers. The shots are colorful and brilliant, but in a way that keeps the viewer’s focus entirely on Blanchett and whatever character she is portraying at the time.
“I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends, and accumulates and spits, and drips, and is heavy, and coarse, and blunt, and sweet and stupid as life itself.”
Blanchett is a force of nature. Although her 60+ film credits and two Academy Awards give you a pretty good indication of her talent, Manifesto is fresh, different, and challenging and she performs excellently. She is transformative, transcendent and chameleonic, completely enveloping herself in the 13 different characters she plays. Her characters include a corporate CEO, a factory worker, a homeless man, and a news anchor. She constructs and colors each character as they spew forth ideas through their manifestos. There is no narrative consequence for any of the characters, so they can effectively put any thoughts they want out into the space, thus breathing life into dramatic and extreme philosophical beliefs and concepts. Blanchett’s performance is outstanding and she proves again to be one of the most exciting actresses working currently. Is there anything she cannot do?
Manifesto is a provocative and intense experimental meditation on art through the philosophical manifestos of the 20th and 21st century. It is vibrant, new, humorous (“Dada is shit!”), and incredibly gripping. Blanchett’s stunning performance uplifts and enhances Rosefeldt’s creation, allowing it to work beautifully as both an art installation and as a coherent film, something that is difficult to achieve.
Jenna Kalishman is a freelance writer and cinephile based in Colorado who often focuses on female and queer perspectives as well as female-led projects. She spends much of her free time listening to Stevie Nicks and re-watching Carol. You can find her on twitter @jenkalish.