'Manifesto' movie review: Cate Blanchett puts on a one-woman acting masterclass
This esoteric, avant-garde art film is a one-woman, masterclass Cate Blanchett showcase. "Manifesto" (which screened during the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival and is now playing in select cities) is itself a manifesto on manifestos, a self-aware exercise in pointing out the inherent grandstanding nature of impassioned proclamations - by having a top-tier actor perform said speeches. This is the cinematic equivalent of an art installation.
In short: Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters - including a news anchor, school teacher and a homeless man - each performing manifestos pulled from more than 60 published works.
Simply put, "Manifesto" makes no attempt to cater to the average filmgoer. The dialogue-dense script speaks to the art and literature doctorates in the audience rather than the average moviegoer. There is no overarching narrative and none of the characters intersect or interact in any way. These are not inherent weaknesses or flaws in anyway - this is merely a fair warning to any casual moviegoer who may wander into this film with any preconceived notions. But cinema is better because bold films like "Manifesto" exist.
This high-concept experiment is an exercise in performance and pure execution. It crafts its speeches from dozens of celebrated thinkers and composes Blanchett's colorful array of characters against the carefully scripted dialogue. The filmmakers honed a collections of righteous speeches, executed by equally painstakingly designed, eccentric characters.
Much will be made of Blanchett's winding and lyrical monologues, but she deserves equal praise for the non-speaking, authentic moments. She genuinely inhabits each character Each of her 13 characters are clearly defined and dimensional people. Her single mother persona has a beleaguered morning prep ritual. Her wife and mother drones on and on with a slow Southern drawl during pre-supper prayer, to the noticeable thinned patience of her family. In lesser hands, the baker's dozen of characters could have slipped into pure caricature - but in Blanchett's precise and nuanced hands, her characters are striking and engaging.
"Manifesto" earns bonus points of the sheer audacity of its ambition and writer-director Julian Rosefeldt deserves notice for this decidedly unconventional work. The conceit of this work - which is part experimental idea combined with performance art - is fascinating. The totality of this film is stronger than some of its individual components - some of the character vignettes are more compelling than others. This creates a somewhat uneven texture to the film, wherein some characters and speeches demand more screentime (i.e. the newscaster and the teacher) while other characters (namely the puppeteer or the factory worker) don't quite work as well. It is dangerous for a film to challenge an audience to embrace such an unconventional film, then not absolutely nail every single character and speech.
Final verdict: Not everyone will love this performance art experiment - which, ironically, is sort of the point of the metafilm. One character plainly states "Conceptual art is good only when the idea is good." By this criteria, "Manifesto" is an intriguing work of art that challenges its audience and demands rapt attention.
"Manifesto" is now playing in select cities. This experimental film is unrated and has a running time of 95 minutes.