Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto is a statement on art in all its glorious forms.
Told through thirteen distinct personalities, all embodied by Cate Blanchett, it charts the rise and fall of art philosophy and its role in an ever-progressive landscape of communist, postmodern, post-postmodern and futuristic movements of the last century.
For each personality, Blanchett takes on a different form – a modest English factory worker, an all-American newscaster, a template homemaker, and so on, as they respectively tackle a new slant on the role of an ‘artist’. Moreover, this is the artist as a ‘revolutionary’; taking in performance art, music, criticism, conceptual art, architecture, sculpture – you name it, Rosefeldt’s thought of it, and mused on a ‘manifesto’ for each one.
So, how do you review an art film criticising criticism?
The same as any other film. Just because Manifesto comes out of the blocks with its defensive dukes firmly up, doesn’t make it Teflon-proof to any rebuke.
Rosefeldt presents us with a rank unadulterated hedonism
It’s easy to be mesmerised by Blanchett’s transformative qualities, and equally, the unique care for direction which Rosefeldt has mapped out in every scenario, constructing his own art as the film progresses to absurd heights. With some success, Blanchett gamely takes on an arduous task of delivering constant monologues to camera in every guise, varying accents and cadence where appropriate, but occasionally slips, breaking the illusion at play.
However, in those impressionistic caricatures, there’s fun to be had, as Rosefeldt presents us with a rank unadulterated hedonism. One such instance involves a newsroom where Blanchett, as newscaster, ponders on conceptual art in an interview with herself as a roving weather reporter. In another, she chews up the scenery in a rehearsal space as an English-punk lambasting anti-capitalist art and during a dinner scene, she conducts a pre-meal prayer as she dementedly reels off some Claes Oldenburg while her family bores.
Her smirking and over-acting is a turn-off
More pointedly, there is a method in the madness and the film builds towards an over the shoulder glance at twentieth century iconoclasts in a telling scene involving marionettes. It then throws forward to art in the digital age and the new, young luminaries constructing their own art in a classroom with Blanchett’s guiding hand as their teacher. Though, far more frequently, her smirking and over-acting is a turn-off, far more at home with self-congratulatory intellectuals, presiding with a sneering superiority.
Technically, Manifesto does away with a single vision, making its whole feel like a compendium of shorts, with the commonality of artistic statement. There’s certainly shades of Leo Carax’s Holy Motors (2012) in its scathing demand of the viewer, though far less entertaining to the point where Blanchett’s incessant sermons become deadening bores, regardless of her latest apparition and surroundings.
My core takeaway from Manifesto was not a singular bold statement, for it does plenty of contradicting and aggrandisement, but that art is not to be utilised as a tool to decipher life itself. Sadly, the message is somewhat muddied for a considerable amount of the duration, emphasised by the alienating vernacular. So, too, are Rosefeldt’s grand concepts; hurriedly dashed out in a sentence and cemented under another in the following breath – ironic or not, Rosefeldt’s expectations are too high for someone to unpack in a single sitting on the fly, leaving me patronised and estranged for almost its entirety.