Throughout history, the manifesto has been a call to arms for those that would listen, a collection of ideas and philosophy meant to inspire and change minds. Julian Rosefeldt’s debut feature, Manifesto takes some of the most famous declarations and presents them as a series of monologues performed by Cate Blanchett. Rosefeldt uses the traditional monologue to achieve his goal by giving Blanchett a veritable playground to perform within. Playing numerous characters, she's able to transcend sex and form, giving one of the most assured performances of her already stellar career.
Based on a video installation by Rosefeldt that's been making its way across the globe, Manifesto adapts the original concept of Blanchett playing 13 different characters simultaneously, to a more cinematic and easy to digest structure. Opening on an almost post apocalyptic landscape with a disheveled Blanchett portraying a hobo, the striking visual style, brought to life by cinematographer Christoph Krauss, sets the tone almost immediately. This isn't a particularly exciting picture visually, but it's steady and headstrong in its intent. Manifesto is above all a showcase for Blanchett’s talents in front of the camera. She's otherworldly here, never repeating herself in regards to accents or delivery. As dull as some of the speeches can get, you're never not interested, thanks in great part to her performance.
Incorporating some of the most famous manifestos; from Karl Marx to Dadaism, and from Von Trier's Dogma 95 to Jim Jarmusch, each scene plays out in a way to accentuate not only the performance but the character's daily life. Whether it be the aforementioned hobo, or a punk, or even a housewife, Blanchett embodies these characters with a life all their own. Unfortunately, the entire affair has a dour tone that turns the film into a college dissertation. Rosefeldt’s screenplay has the effect of talking down to the audience, which was certainly not appreciated. It’s not necessary that a picture holds my hand, but when dealing with topics such as these, a subtitle here and there (perhaps announcing which manifesto is being performed) would’ve been more than helpful.
The real positives in Manifesto come in the form of the makeup and costume design used to transform Blanchett into each of these personas. Highlights include a Norma Desmond-esque choreographer in the middle of a production, allowing Blanchett to really vamp it up for the camera. It's the most over the top performance in the film but also one of the most entertaining. There's also an almost science fiction sequence that draws heavily from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey; Blanchett finds herself in a sound proof room with only a floating, black monolith as her guide. The monolith gives the monologue in this sequence, bringing to mind to unheard commands of one of Kubrick's most well known visual creations.
The Dogma 95 sequence is absolutely chilling. Blanchett, playing a school teacher, recites the tenants of the doctrine to a classroom filled with children that can't be older than ten years old. It's creepy in a way that only school can be - being forced to memorize and regurgitate information at the teacher's whim, in hopes that you'll get a passing grade, no matter how much you actually care for the material. Luckily, there is one scene that plays to great comedic effect (intentionally or not); Blanchett, playing a news anchor, interviews a second Blanchett via remote, all the while addressing each other by name. Intentional or not, the comedy is there and was a welcome relief from the rest of the film's oppressive nature.
Comedian Billy Eichner once asked "Is Cate Blanchett good or is she just tall?" I'd wager that she's both. She's the main draw for Manifesto, giving several masterful performances with only a few missteps along the way. The film version is obviously a lot different than what Rosefeldt achieved with his original art piece, and whereas that installation is apparently one for the ages, Manifesto certainly is not. It's an interesting exercise in performance by one of our greatest actresses, but that isn't enough to make a great film. Worth seeing for the experience, Manifesto is a fascinating piece of art that certainly will not be for everyone.