While watching Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto, a film that began as a 13-screen art installation, the audience is lectured at and berated for an hour-and-a-half—but the result is surprisingly entertaining. Rosefeldt describes the script as a series of "text collages," each of which is made up of one or many artistic/political manifestos. The words of Marx and Engel are presented alongside filmmaking rules by Lars von Trier; the result is a passionate hodgepodge of art, politics, and philosophy that doesn’t make any narrative sense but instead serves as an ode to expression and conviction.
A major draw of this movie is watching and hearing how Cate Blanchett can transform herself. She plays more than 13 characters and when she appears on screen in a different role, she has a new voice and face, made even more dramatic by expert hair and makeup alterations.
She falters slightly in her portrayal of a homeless man, which comes across as less polished and nuanced than her other personas. (It’s also her only male role.) But generally her performances are impressive, and she manages to retain a mixture of intellectual curiosity and close-minded certainty (the driving forces behind people who think they’ve figured out what truth is) throughout more than a dozen unique characters.
Wading through the references is fun, but even those unfamiliar with the quoted works will appreciate the thoughtful script that seems to recognize its own absurdity and pretentiousness. It’s hard to tell exactly how tongue-in-cheek this movie is, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter: it works. Some people will walk out of the theater invigorated, clinging to this version of the world in which every one of us is full of art, fury, and self-righteousness. And hopefully everyone will enjoy the deeply funny Dadaist nonsense sprinkled throughout.