Monday, 5 August 2013

Review - Manderlay (2005 - Dir. Lars Von Trier)

I wasn't aware there was a sequel to Dogville. But when I started to watch Manderlay - another film by Lars Von Trier - I thought that the style felt very similar. Ah, but there's no Nicole Kidman, can't be a sequel. So I checked it out and found that Grace, played by Kidman in Dogville, is played by Bryce Dallas Howard and Manderlay is indeed a sequel. Ooh.

Surely the aspect that will have split viewers of Dogville has to be the style. If you couldn't get into that film due to the visuals, then don't bother with Manderlay. But I really liked the style and would recommend it, with one proviso: I love theatre. The music and sets are virtually non-existent. Characters knock on imaginary doors to the accompaniment of a five year old banging on a wood block in true school play style. Rooms are marked out by lines on the floor. As with minimalist theatre, the imagination has to be accessed and used frequently. I realised at many times during the film that I was seeing things that weren't there. For example, when some crops were harvested from a field, I saw those crops in all of their splendour lit by a stunning sunset. But I never did. All the actors are doing is pretending, like in lunchtime TV programme Let's Pretend. The great thing about this is that everyone will watch this film differently. A bit like reading a book.

The theatre style makes the film very intimate. The characters appear to be in the same room as the viewer. And unlike the majority of theatre, the screen is filled with a multitude of top world-class actory types: Willem Dafoe, Danny Glover and Lauren Bacall to name a few (let's face facts, the best you get at Doncaster Civic Theatre is Christopher Biggins). So this is theatre of the highest order.

But of course it isn't theatre. It's a film. And it does a few things that theatre can't: the space that the actors perform in is huge, jump cuts are used frequently and the camera can whizz up into the air way above the action. It also shows things that happen in different locations at the same time and flashbacks are occasionally employed. 

So Manderlay uses film and theatre as its palette. But what about the story? Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) arrives at cotton plantation Manderlay, driven by her gangster father (Willem Dafoe). There she finds slavery still in full swing despite the abolishment seventy year ago. Grace, with a contingent of her father's gangster chums, is left to sort things out and free the slaves. 

Manderlay deals with the theme of whether slaves were ready for freedom and more importantly whether America was ready to treat them as equals. Wilhelm (Danny Glover) isn't really convinced that the USA will be ready for them in a hundred year's time (that would work out to be roughly 2030). And although things have moved on, with the first black president in power, I can see his point (the KKK is still in operation after all). Not that the UK is much better in the tolerance of other cultures stakes, with the rise of right wing extremists, such as the BNP and EDL. When the final credits appear over a photo montage, it's up to you to make up your own mind.

If you fancy a night at the theatre, with a thought provoking story, but you really can't be bothered to get tarted up - maybe donning a cummerbund in the process - and leave the comfort of your home, this could be right up your street.

If you like this you could also try:
Dogville, Mississippi Burning.

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