The story of Manifesto is that there’s no story. It’s just a bizarre juxtaposition of content without context that needs to be seen to be believed.
There's 13 Cate Blanchetts in this one. What more can you ask for?
Manifesto is weird and distinctly unsettling. No, it’s not the kind that you’d call films like Il Racconto Dei Racconti (Eng.: Tale of Tales, 2015) or David Lynch’s Blue Velvet—they are weirdly surreal, but they still follow some sort of narrative structure to move the story forward. Artist Julian Rosefeldt’s film, however, is so stubbornly anti-narrative, that just the mere presence of it in our universe makes it unique enough. Reciting the many manifestos and writings of artists from American director Jim Jarmusch (Paterson, 2016) to Italian poet and founder of futurism Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti, viewers get to see an uncannily hypnotic set of worlds dominated by Cate Blanchett in a wide variety of accents and characters—some set in an environment close to the writings, most others polar opposites.
[…] the point of the film is that there’s legitimately no point.
It’s hard to compare the final cut of Manifesto—a 90-odd minute experience that’s both frustrating and fascinating at the same time—to anything else, but let me try to paint you a picture the best I can. Imagine the Terrence Malick’s works post The Thin Red Line, swapping poetic marriage with the juxtaposition of cerebral discussion over images that are mostly without context. The thought of a homeless man waxing eloquent about the influence of artistic integrity in the world today—or even newsreader-Cate talking to weather-reporter-Cate about “fake art”—is both humorous and oddly hypnotic, to the point that, while often frustrating, it’s quite difficult to take your eyes off the screen.
But then, what’s the point of the film? Well, technically, there is none. Then again, the point is that there’s legitimately no point—about anything, really. Humanity’s seeing a steep decline, and being true to yourself as an artist is the only way out; the single key to revolutionizing the future is by smashing today’s construct. And if any concept you think holds artistic merit isn’t something even the world agrees on, you still go ahead with it, fighting for it till the end. Cate-the-widow’s bizarre eulogy-framed recitation on the significance of Dadaism is quite easily the perfect example of this.
Electrically Charged Artistic Eccentricity
Cate Blanchett stars in Julian Rosefeldt's Manifesto, a FilmRise release.
More importantly, though, Manifesto touches upon the wild hypocrisy of art and artistic license. Pop art is dismissed as flaky and unimportant, but the fact that it can reach a broad audience—that it has the power of accessibility—is in itself proof of its being a fantastic tool. All pieces of work—and those who make them—deserve to have their voices heard. If Taylor is frustrated with her image in entertainment-based journalism today, her voice deserves a space, whether we like it or not. If one thinks Reputation (2017) is not art, that doesn’t decrease its credibility as a work of art. The same goes for films like the much derided Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which, in and of itself is a fascinating outlook on the philosophy of objectivism and the art of manipulation in politics), or television shows like Neo Yokio.
[…] if as an artist, a specific work of art speaks to your soul, it’s worth defending […]
The crux of it all—and I could be wrong—is that if, as an artist, a specific work art speaks to your soul, it’s worth fighting for, maybe even “stealing” (Brian De Palma’s ode to the Hitchcockian image system in his films or Malick’s love for Fellini’s sans-screenplay filmmaking are excellent examples) if the “thievery” gives your work any drop of authenticity. Consequently, if people the world over understand—and are maybe even inspired—by your work, it’s a success through and through. It’s precisely why Manifesto completely rejects any semblance of standardization, going instead for a structure that is so abstract you’d mistake it for not having one.
And that’s probably its only Achilles Heel—it does admittedly feel too obscure for its own message of widespread accessibility. If you’re up for something utterly bizarre, however, Rosefeldt’s often frustrating film should be right up your alley. As mad as it is purposeful, Manifesto is just the kind of bonkers confidence you need make your jaw drop every once in a while. And if nothing else, it deserves your time only for the 13 of the most distinct Cate Blanchett performances you’ll ever get in one feature-length film.
Manifesto‘s bizarre, almost rage-inducing anti-structure in itself makes the film very difficult to watch. Those who do stick around, though, might just be rewarded with humor of the most unusual kind, and 13 Cate Blanchetts to blow your mind. Masterpiece.