Traveling across America with her father (Willem Dafoe), Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) comes to discover the isolated plantation of Manderlay ? a place whose inhabitants do not know that slavery has been abolished. Outraged ... more »to discover that the plantations« less
"I've only seen the film once, but I felt that the most consistent interpretation was strictly about arrogant imperialism. I found myself first seeing through a very direct lens of a slave narrative/american liberal white guilt. This is an easy interpretation that lives on the surface.
The film then transformed into a statement about the presumption that "we" can teach others how to govern when "they" may have a system that works better in their context. The system in Manderlay was not overseer/slave, the system was socialism/communism and each "slave," as Grace saw them, had his or her own specialized role. The inhabitants of Manderlay were free within their system, but Grace was so completely blinded by what her culture had taught her about "freedom" and "democracy" and the inferiority of all other ways of life. The democracy she implemented was a complete farce. Their society did not function when the arrogant outsider who thought she knew what was best for them began implementing her system with force. The most direct comparison is "operation iraqi freedom" and other US nation building exercises or sponsored coups.
I found many other characters to be representations of a global system of oppression. The card shark was an international lending institution like the World Bank or the IMF and the "prince" was a corrupt leader who sold out his people for a cut of the profits of the international business elites (like Marcos, Suharto, or seemingly countless others).
I was very pleased with Manderlay and thoroughly frustrated by simplistic the reviews I read of it. I feel that this film falls apart with a straigtforward viewing. As a white guilt slave narrative the film is mediocre. As commentary on imperialism and an absolutely corrupt global system, the film is a wonderful composition. I can't wait for Wasington."
Political allegory at its barebones finest!
James Gebhardt | Stamford, CT | 09/04/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I just can't help myself. I always have to see what Lars von Trier is up to. I think von Trier sees Americans as either hopelessly self-deluded or secretly self-loathing. Either way, he once again has allowed us to peer into his head in order to see America through his eyes (even though he has yet to step foot on American soil due to his own fear of flying). To say he's an irritant would be an understatement. He has quite a talent for getting under one's skin and setting up camp for a long while even after the last reel of film has unspooled. He's annoying, provocative, controversial and possibly one of the greatest directors of all time. Just like his film style and choice of subject matter - you either love him or you hate him. I kinda like that. I like a filmmaker who forces the viewer out of the gray dullness of life - to take a definitive stand and to have a direct opinion about something ... anything. He's thought-provoking, ascerbic and scathing at his best and he's a somewhat simplistic, narcissistic, petulant man-child at his worst. But, I promise you this: after seeing Manderlay, you will have an opinion and you will have food for thought for quite some time. This is a bold and daring film and von Trier delivers his message with surgical precision.
In the second part of his proposed American trilogy (the first part being his last film, Dogville), the story's hero, Grace comes upon a working plantation (Manderlay) complete with slaves and slave owners. The problem is, the year is 1933. Are these people living a vacuum? Well, it seems it's up to Grace to "break the news" to all involved. Her gangster father, played by Willem Dafoe, urges Grace to not get involved but headstrong and rebellious Grace (played by the talented but miscast Bryce Dallas Howard) is of another opinion. Driven by a sense of compassion or maybe a "god complex" or something of that nature, Grace decides to intervene and, very quickly, her good-natured intentions backfire and set into motion a tragic series of events.
This film is rich in social and political allegory. It is a scathing attack on American foreign policy namely unwelcome American intervention and democratization. There's also an even larger assault on America's history of black oppression and slavery - sometimes referred to (and rightly so) as the African Holocaust in America. I don't think it is the purpose of this film to "point fingers" and to place blame since slavery was an institution brought over to the New World by Old World Europeans. Even von Trier surely knows that his own country of Denmark bears the guilt of systematic oppression while it occupied, subjugated and ruled harshly over the countries of Norway and Iceland for many centuries. But, I digress... (sorry but I'm still somewhat irritated!) Rather, I think the purpose of his latest film is more of awareness and not condemnation. It is a parable or maybe a cautionary tale.
In keeping with the Dogme 95 movement, von Trier has once again stripped down his film making style to its most basic elements with the focus being on narrative. Just like in Dogville, the entire 133 minutes takes place on a rudimentary theatrical stage with props kept to a bare-bones minimum. With the stage floor once again outlined in chalk designating areas such as "Mam's Garden" and "The Well", the viewer is once again coaxed into focussing more on the dialogue and storyline as opposed to rich, scenic backdrops and computer-generated special effects. He's minimalist and thoroughly post-modern. Not only is von Trier irritating the audience with his subject matter, his "shaky wandering" style of filming is back. Will someone buy this guy a tripod! Just kidding. Although, it does take me about fifteen minutes to acclimate myself to this style. I really don't mind. Anyway, throughout the film, the ever capable John Hurt provides voice-over and much-needed momentum to the sometimes tedious interaction of the principals. Without getting into too many details, young Grace teaches the slaves to be autonomous, punishes the plantation owners and screws up everything in the process. Danny Glover is great as the elder slave but he is woefully underused throughout the film. The same goes for Lauren Bacall, Chloe Sevigny and Jeremy Davies (all back from Dogville but, in new roles). Although I like Bryce Dallas Howard very much I feel that she was a poor choice for the demanding role of Grace. An older actress was needed to make the part more convincing. The role demanded maturity and wisdom and Nicole Kidman delivered both effortlessly in Dogville. And although Howard tried her best, she came up short. I'm not blaming Howard for this one bit. This was von Trier's fault. Although many of his films center around the subject of female martyrdom employing a woman-child sort of protagonist possessing great inner strength (see Breaking The Waves, The Idiots and Dancer In The Dark), this trilogy requires a strong female character of a different order. Namely, a woman of emotional and intellectual maturity who is less vulnerable and more resilient both mentally and physically. A woman who is not hopelessly idealistic and moves in and out of the harsh realities of life with great agility. I think Nicole Kidman embodied the spirit of the Grace character and it was sad to see her not return to the role. I don't think she wanted to return from what I heard. Willem Dafoe replaced James Caan as well and maybe for the same reason. I'm not sure though. Anyway, that's my opinion for what it's worth.
I think von Trier wants to and likes to shock his audience out of relative complacency. For example, I read that the mule was killed "on-film" (allowable under Swedish cinematic law)and that it was later edited out for the US version. A good move on von Trier's part since it would only serve to stir up unintended reactions and distract from the main focus of the film. Another example would be the "way too explicit" sex scene between Grace and one of the other members of cast (I don't want to give too much away). I found it to be exceedingly gratuitous and it could have been more tastefully done maybe from a distance like Nicole Kidman's unfortunate rape scene in Dogville. Both sex scenes were necessary to move the story forward but, there's a right way and a wrong way to do things. Actors put their trust and faith in a director's vision but sometimes compromises between actor and director must and should be made. I think this is yet another example that shows the difference between the wiser, more mature veteran actress Kidman and a non-veteran actress such as Howard. Kidman knew where to "draw the line" with the director.
Anyway, it probably seems like I didn't like the film. Well, I actually did like it tremendously and although it was hard to take in both visually and ideologically, it was a necessary pill to swallow. It took me some time afterwards to process my feelings about this film and to put pen to paper (or more appropriately, fingertips to keyboard) and few films have that effect on me. After seeing Dogville and Manderlay, I'm almost dreading to see what Mr. von Trier has in store for us with the final installment of this trilogy. I can't wait!"
Excellent thought-provoking film... Barebones DVD from IFC
dooby | 10/07/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an excellent film. In the second installment of his proposed American trilogy, Lars von Trier, touches on the subjects of racism, cultural blindness, hypocrisy and self-righteous superiority. In its way, it points at why America is simultaneously admired and despised the world over. Famously, Lars von Trier has never set foot in America (afraid of flying). So his views are the views of a foreigner, specifically a northern European steeped in the liberal tradition. Some will see that as a negative. I think it is refreshing for Americans to see how America is viewed from abroard, from someone unencumbered by its cultural baggage. What he shows is the ugly side of America. But von Trier's comment is by extension a critique on all humanity; for what Americans are here accused of, is equally applicable to other nations, races and creeds.
The story is simple. It carries on chronologically from Dogville. After destroying the godforsaken town in the bloody climax of the previous film, Grace (previously played by Nicole Kidman, and now by Bryce Dallas Howard) drives homeward with her father and his convoy of gangsters. They chance upon a plantation in Alabama where slavery is still practised, some 70 years after abolition (this is 1933). Grace gets it into her mind to free the slaves and to teach everyone, former slaves and Masters alike, about the new creed of equality and democracy. With the aid of her gun-toting gangsters, she preaches and enforces her new religion on the "benighted" people of the plantation. Of course, out of the seeds of her good intent, come no good at all.
The film can be viewed on many levels. The simplest is to take it as a commentary on racism. Passing a decree does not abolish racism. Nothing changes as long as hearts and minds don't change. Preaching empty words will not alter generations of abuse and hatred. On the flipside, it also poses the question: why do certain groups of people remain so backward and unsuccessful? Is it because of their past or themselves? It's a question that reaches beyond the black/white divide in America, to vast swathes of the world, from Africa to the Middle-East, where societies and nations have floundered and where they all invariably blame their past and their "victimhood" at the hands of white colonisers. Do they bear no responsibilty for their own fates? Is it simply easier to blame someone else than to take responsibility for one's own actions? The abdication of responsibility is sadly an all too American trait, but it is by no means confined solely to America.
We are also called to ponder on Grace's self-righteous attempt to free the slaves and more importantly, her attempt to force them into seeing things her way. Apart from its obvious ridiculing of the "do-gooder" abolitionists, and by extension, the superior white man with his constant chant of equal rights and democracy, it is also a comment on present day politics. America's actions across the world instantly spring to mind. Its endless, simple-minded attempts at interfering with and changing others to fit its own image, is today mirrored by other world actors; newly rising powers, increasingly resurgent religions, all of which similarly want to remake others into their own image - their prime justification being: "I'm better than you, so you'd best do as I say." It is a sad comment on humanity as a whole.
Like Dogville, this is a very dark film. It is not light entertainment. It is also not cinéma vérité. Do not expect realism. It does not aspire to historical accuracy. It should be taken more as a parable than a history lesson. It is wide open to interpretation. I especially liked Brandon Medford's analysis (further down) which I thought was spot-on. And I agree with him that to look at this solely as a film about slavery or racism is to impoverish the work.
Manderlay follows in the Dogme 95 tradition of Dogville. It is Dogme brought to its extreme conclusion - a filmed stage-play with minimalist sets, with actors acting and pantomiming on stage. If you don't think you can sit through a 2-hour-plus stage play, this film is not for you. Acting is fine overall. I wasn't affected by the change of cast. Lars von Trier's films are not centered around stars, although Nicole Kidman was the ideal choice for Grace.
The DVD from IFC is totally bare save for the film. It is beautifully transferred in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (enhanced for widescreen TV). Colors are accurate, black levels are perfectly set. The DD 5.1 soundtrack is front-centered and is clear enough although I turned to the optional English subtitles after a while.
Note: There is a very graphic scene of copulation, even more explicit than the rape scene in Dogville."
There Is No More Masterful an Auteur Practicing Today
Zachary A. Hanson | Tallahassee, FL United States | 08/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Lars Von Trier does the seemingly impossible and improves upon the first part of the America trilogy, _Dogville_, here. I shudder to think what he will achieve with the third and concluding part. Let me suggest that you get your hands on this movie immediately and you will at least know what direction Grace is heading at the end of this second masterpiece in Trier's cinema of cruelty. The stakes are going to be REAL high in part three!
Where to begin? And where to end? I'm not going to trouble you with many details here because you should just watch this piece without any prejudice. Let's just say it's an overwhelming piece that attempts to induce the truth through art. And it's the first film where I've ever wept at the final credits. Yes, if you've seen _Dogville_, you know the astonishing nature of the credits on that one. Those were the first film credits I ever wrote a term paper on. It only gets better. And, no, I'm not being ironic. Lars Von Trier is at such a high level of narrative and film-making craft that his credits are masterworks in themselves.
So I'm just going to say that this is about the legacy of slavery that is still with us to this day--if we are to give credence to _Manderlay_, and we better, we are also led to believe that slavery's aftermath is something we will not be able to truly smooth over any time soon (think of the Jews in Egypt). Like in _Dogville_, nobody in this allegory of American (and, actually, Western) history ends up looking rosy at the end. This is a panoramic and uncomfortable portrayal of Nietzsche's dictum of "human, all too human" that none of us really ever escape, not even those of us with sterling intentions. This allegory is told and filmed with such amazing values that one can't help but wonder how Von Trier's movies don't even make it to theaters in Tallahassee (where I live), while indie war-horses like _Thank You for Smoking_ stay in our art-house for months (nothing against it, but I don't believe it has quite the amount of what the French call jouissance to it--this is the jouissance that really transforms, more than a good laugh--this is the laugh that laughs at the laugh--the risus purus as again, Nietzsche, would put it, that which laughs at misfortune--the most sorrowful and ironic feeling imaginable). The Academy didn't nominate _Dogville_ and I'm guessing they won't nominate this one, either, though nothing I've seen this year comes close to touching it in sheer scope and execution. Well, Trier can look forward to a lifetime achievement award in several decades, putting him in the company of other Oscar-less impresarios who received that award like Scorcese and Altman.
While bleak terms like "existential" should come to mind when discussing and watching Trier, don't get the idea that it's all passed off as meaningless. Nothing could be more meaningful, it's just the feeling of helplessness that he prods us to examine, document, do anything but maintain the status quo with that we have done for too long. This puts him at the helm of Western art of any kind that gets pegged with words like "existential": Beckett, Lispector, Sartre. Despite the hopelessness we may derive from these masters, we often leave their works on fire more than ever to "make things new."
So, really, here's what we're talking about here. This is a film by a middle-aged man at the height of his powers. What can we look forward to when he's going gray? Films with the resonance (and popularity?) of _Gangs of New York_ and _The Aviator_ are certainly not out of the question as he is making films of the same level now (America just ignores them because they hit too close to home--if ever a person was ahead of his time, it's Trier). So buy this now, don't bother with rental. You'll be able to say you knew all about this kind of greatness while the rest of the American movie establishment and public largely had its head in the sand. As good as movies get!!!
Does not live up to "Dogville"
Daniel R. Larson | USA | 11/05/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Manderlay" employs an enormous amount of tricks to fool us into believing there is some profound truth behind the film. Although some of these devices are clever, don't be fooled! The filmmaking here is at least interesting, but the movie's content is extremely weak.
Where "Dogville" was concerned with the transition from freedom to slavery, "Manderlay" is about going from slavery to freedom. As such, it is strange that Lars von Trier uses the same cinematic devices in each. While the staging is particularly effective in "Dogville", where so much of the film takes place behind closed doors, most of the actions in "Manderlay" are public, making this effect unnecessary. This convention gets in the way more often than it helps the film.
As for the story of the film, there is not much to say. The characters are absurdly simple, perhaps to support von Trier's attempt to simplify the struggles of a people into a concise summary. Even Grace is a stagnant character- although she creates the conflict within the first fifteen minutes of the film, she is weak the rest of the time. As if to make up for the complete lack of character interaction, von Trier inserts senseless violence into the film sporadically during scenes of low action.
Although "Manderlay" was clearly made through a historical approach, Lars von Trier has failed to remain historically accurate or give an insightful commentary on America. As a completely fictional work, the film is mediocre. Don't expect an improvement from "Dogville", but if you have seen the first film in this series, then perhaps "Manderlay" is worth a rent. 3 stars."