German artist Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto is a continuous cut of his 2015 art installation which saw 13 screens simultaneously play monologues from various manifestos of the 20th century, each recited by Cate Blanchett and shot in various Berlin locations over a 12-day period. In many ways, this compilation of the segments is a cinematic expression of how Tristan Tzara described “man” in the Dada Manifesto: “that infinite and shapeless variation.” Indeed, Blanchett shapeshifts from one character to the next in varying vignettes, and whether she embodies a homeless man, news anchor, puppeteer or a Russian choreographer, the actress is mesmerisingly versatile. Only her short stint as a punk doesn’t quite stick the landing. Rosefeldt, who studied architecture, expertly uses Berlin settings to tease meaning that decries from the often-contradictory collision between speech and context, as Blanchett ‘repurposes’ a wealth of speeches that include political tracts (Marx, Engels), artistic manifestos (Dada, Dogme) and psychological monologues (Situationism, Rodchenko).
If you manage to get on its unashamedly cerebral wavelength, there’s riches aplenty and even a few laughs to be found, especially in one sequence where she plays a schoolteacher who firmly tells her 7-year olds about the restrictions inherent to the Dogme 95 filmmaking movement. If, on the other hand, the thought of this plotless film sounds like a portentous, high-brow chore, Manifesto will be hard to engage with. Whichever side you fall on, however, Blanchet’s tour de force performances remain thrilling to watch and ensures that this curious film will be revisited in both theatres and seminars in years to come.
Manifesto | Directed by Julian Rosefeldt (Germany 2017) with Cate Blanchett. Starts November 23
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