Julian Rosefeldt: MANIFESTO
Feature film starring Cate Blanchett
Opens at the NuArt May 26th and keep an eye out for more dates in June
Review by Shana Nys Dambrot
Visual artist Julian Rosefeldt is an acclaimed and ambitious fine art photographer and video artist with a distinctly Romantic, operatic sensibility even at his most Post-Modern. And now he’s also a feature film director, in a way. While not exactly linear, his stunning new film’s unconventional structure is still narrative; it’s a series of vignettes, interrelated only by premise and some ingenious compositional scenic transitions. Manifesto comprises about a dozen scenes under ten minutes, each with its own distinct aesthetic directive and tenor, each starring Cate Blanchett and various ensemble casts, as the embodiment, witness, protagonist, and orator of a series of creative manifestos culled from the most indelible moments in 20th century art history, philosophy, and cultural criticism. It is so very much more dynamic, exciting, engaging, startling, and outright gorgeous than that sounds. Imagine the rough passionate soul of indie video art executed with the resources and talent of studio production value, and a story structure that channels Run Lola Run and Aria while succeeding in getting viewers to care about issues like Minimalism, Conceptualism, and Situationism. It starts with Karl Marx and ends with Jean-Luc Godard, more or less. There are also puppets.
It will be impossible to choose a favorite, but some of the most luminous moments come from the juxtapositional overlaying of mannerism with content. Basically she acts her parts to perfection emotionally and physically, with the accent, cadence and affect perfectly suited to each particular character and crafted environment she inhabits — stockbroker, school teacher, choreographer, homeless man, punk rocker, CEO, newscaster, mourner — but instead of conventional dialog, she orates the texts of artistic philosophies from Suprematism to Surrealism, Pop to Dada in all their hyperbolic, polemic, confrontational, frightfully urgent glory. The dissonance thus generated rather than jarring is delicious, fraught with ironic visual commentary, and frequently hilarious in an art-history nerd kind of way. Through the power of her acting, she makes the jargon accessible; through the incomparably fine mis-en-scene encompassing first-rate art direction, makeup, costume design, editing, and cinematography — executed by an artist-helmed team, remember — the whole experience becomes a high art masterpiece on the order of an exhibition in which every image is a home run, but alive with the gesamtkunstwerk quality of a motion picture.
Keeping spoilers to a minimum (the wit and variety of vignette is not unlike a series of plot twists) the kind of aesthetic doubling to expect are things like a rich widow delivering an emotional eulogy at presumably her husband’s grave which turns out to be the dashingly vulgar Dadaist manifesto excoriating cowardly bourgeois values in modern art. Her vaguely Russian, glamorously turbaned choreographer delivers notes to the dancers as though dispensing advice on timing, posture, etc. but through the text of the Fluxus demand for non-material ephemerality. The relative pros and cons of Conceptualism and Minimalism are broken down in the emphatic robot tones of a newscaster and on-location reporter (she plays both) and in its insistence that “all art is fake” and “conceptual art is good if the idea is good” in obvious reference to so-called fake news in a send-up that is also a demonstration of the discourse. The edit returns at least once to each character’s world, so that something close enough to a narrative structure does provide a kind of beginning and end mimicking the shape of a movie. One thing it does have in common with most cinematic adaptation — it makes you want to go read the book.
May 26-June 1, 2017 – LA – Nuart Theater: https://www.landmarktheatres.com/los-angeles/nuart-theatre/film-info/manifesto
June 2-8 in San Diego: https://www.facebook.com/events/228901090938784/