Starting life as multi-screen art installation back in December 2015, Manifesto is only now making its way into our cinemas as a 90-minute feature.
Would it be getting an official cinematic release were Cate Blanchett not bringing some star power to what is a largely esoteric, confusing watch? Probably not, but Blanchett has such magnetic screen presence that she could read a book for an hour and a half and we’d still probably be entertained.
In fact, that’s not a million miles off what she does here: Blanchett narrates the manifestos of some of art history’s most famously cerebral figures and movements – from Andre Breton and the Surrealists, to Claes Oldenburg and the Pop Artists.
The hook is that she delivers these monologues in no less than 12 different personas, bringing these abstract, academic ideologies into the realm of the everyday.
Blanchett showcases her extraordinary dramatic range in taking on so many diffuse personalities, from a CEO to a puppeteer to a ferocious Eastern European choreographer. Although we can’t but admire this feat, there’s an unavoidable sense that some of the characters work better than others.
Blanchett’s first incarnation is as a homeless Scottish man delivering the Situationist credo while wandering through an abandoned estate. The purpose of this segment is clear — to posit how many profound ideas we might miss because they come from unconventional sources — but it’s hard to look past the gimmick of the debonair Blanchett playing a gruff and bearded vagrant.
Another persona sees Blanchett as a laboratory worker in a futuristic factory, looking distractingly like one of the sperm from Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.
But then other vignettes are superb. The wonderful incongruity of a Southern housewife expounding an expletive laden manifesto as a grace at the dinner table is one highlight. Similarly, Blanchett’s turn as a primary school teacher who begins her lesson by telling her class of young children that ‘nothing is original’ is knowingly very amusing.
Best of all is a sequence in which she plays a stony-faced widow at her husband’s funeral reading the Dadaist manifesto as if it was an eulogy. The ostensible dissonance of the provocative speech and the sombre circumstances is initially little more than darkly funny but soon enough the manifesto becomes very apposite — its nihilism and repetition of the word ‘nothing’ transforming the scene into one that’s unexpectedly moving.
That said, Manifesto does, problematically, feel at times like we’re watching a showreel, a filmic portfolio. On the one hand, Blanchett is one of few actors with enough experience, nuance and talent to take on that many roles and do so convincingly.
On the other hand, we can’t help but think that this is the kind of project an actor keen to promote their versatility would do early on in their career. After all, what does Cate Blanchett have to prove?
|What||Manifesto film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
24 Nov 17 – 25 Nov 18, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information|