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Manderlay 9/10 Introducing this 'Part 2' of the von Trier American
Trilogy, actor Danny Glover said, ¨The process of storytelling is an
enormous responsibility and opportunity.¨ It is one that director Lars
von Trier takes very seriously, constantly seeming to question his role
and duty as an artist and whether the duty is to the audience or to
Both with his Dogme movement films and now with later works such as Dancer in the Dark, Dogville and Manderlay, his answer seems to be firmly towards art as a worthy end in itself or at least as a serious medium by which to raise (though not answer) questions of social conscience. He makes little or no concessions towards audiences who are not interested in what he has to say.
Manderlay a story about emancipation from slavery (and on a deeper level, of the more topical problems of introducing democracy), continues the Dogville tradition of using Brechtian acting and a semi-bare stage. The immediate dissociation this brings from any semblance of everyday reality, focuses our attention on the issues, in a similar way that Greek tragedy or grand opera is able to do by insisting that ordinary details are secondary or even irrelevant to the main theme.
Grace (played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who takes over seamlessly from Dogville's Nicole Kidman) travels across America with her father and comes across an isolated town where slavery has not been abolished. With a pure heart, god intentions, and the power of her father's lawyer and henchmen behind her, Grace makes well-meaning but unfortunate, ill-informed attempts to put things right. She never stops to question the fact that she knows best, or whether her high moral values are appropriate or whether they will win the day. Not unexpectedly, there is much trouble in store for her.
Manderlay's high points are that it is deeply philosophical but at the same time highly coherent and accessible. It asks important and necessary questions about the nature of freedom and democracy. Such questions, and the discussion which this film makes possible, are urgently needed in the light of such unsolved dilemmas as Iraq, the philosophical basis for the removal of Saddam Hussein, the introduction of western-style democracy to countries like Iraq (or even Afghanistan). The broader practical problems (also tackled by Manderlay) of how to restore power to those who have been disenfranchised, whether by slavery, colonialism, dictatorships or market forces, is one that applies to many countries, irrespective of the morality involved.
The weakness of Manderlay is that the USA (and its internal and foreign policy) is an ideal example for any artist tackling such issues as it's visibility provides a common focus throughout the world. Sensitive American citizens (and politicians) however will mistakenly see the film as simply anti-American (which is not too difficult) and avoid it. This means the people in power who most need to see it (as they need such fora to find answers) will probably avoid it.
But von Trier has discharged his duty as one of the most intelligent artists of our time. He has discarded sensational entertainment, using art as a tool to help us think outside the square and his thinking is both profoundly stimulating and fully accessible to those with the patience and inclination. Does art need to tantalize our senses? If so we would miss out on some of the finest literature, the greatest plays, anything that did not provide immediate sensory satisfaction. Works such as Manderlay help to firmly position cinema as one of the great intellectual arenas of art one that has the power to inform, enrich and enlighten.
Indeed one of this years best films. I have just returned from the
cinema, and i'm still thinking about Manderlay. The story continues
where Dogville ended. Grace and her father makes a short brake their
travel, and discovers that a slave is getting punished near by in a
plantation named Manderlay. Grace's father continues his travel and
Grace stays in Manderlay to set the slaves free, as they should have
been 70 years ago, when the slavery was made illegal. And of course
this is not easy.
Manderlay isn't as shocking and far out as Dogville was. Not that it was a bad thing of course. But this is just a very much stronger film, because you get personally involved in the characters in a way that i don't think you did in Dogville. The only thing missing is a little bit of action. Nothing really happens. People just walk around and talk. The biggest scenes in the film has no direct influence on the following physical action and development in the story. well of course they does, but the development lies in the head of the characters. These developments are more interesting to analyze after you have seen the movie that during the movie. But instead of a lot of physical action we are given as i remember three truly terrifying and terrific scenes that are as strong as scenes in Dancer in the Dark and Breaking the Waves, and they does in my opinion make up for the lack of action.
Manderlay is also a lot stronger i it's message than Dogville was. Yes, the message is pointed against USA, but as in Dogville, it is so much more than just a criticism of that country... it's a criticism of the human kind. The reason for Lars von Trier to place the story in USA is that he likes to tease the big ones. He said that in an interview on TV not so long ago. He also said that the screenplay was written before the incidents in Iraq, so it's a coincidence that there are so many parallels between the events in Manderlay and in Iraq.
Lars von Trier is in my opinion one of the biggest directors of our time. It takes a courage, that i see in no other directors than him, to make a film like this. Manderlay is one of the bravest movies i have seen.
I've only seen the film once, but I felt that the most consistent
interpretation was strictly about arrogant imperialism. I found myself
first seeing through a very direct lens of a slave narrative/American
liberal white guilt. This is an easy interpretation that lives on the
The film then transformed into a statement about the presumption that "we" can teach others how to govern when "they" may have a system that works better in their context. The system in Manderlay was not overseer/slave, the system was socialism/communism and each "slave," as Grace saw them, had his or her own specialized role. The inhabitants of Manderlay were free within their system, but Grace was so completely blinded by what her culture had taught her about "freedom" and "democracy" and the inferiority of all other ways of life. The democracy she implemented was a complete farce. Their society did not function when the arrogant outsider who thought she knew what was best for them began implementing her system with force. The most direct comparison is "operation iraqi freedom" and other US nation building exercises or sponsored coups.
I found many other characters to be representations of a global system of oppression. The card shark was an international lending institution like the World Bank or the IMF and the "prince" was a corrupt leader who sold out his people for a cut of the profits of the international business elites (like Marcos, Suharto, or seemingly countless others).
I was very pleased with Manderlay and thoroughly frustrated by simplistic the reviews I read of it. I feel that this film falls apart with a straightforward viewing. As a white guilt slave narrative the film is mediocre. As commentary on imperialism and an absolutely corrupt global system, the film is a wonderful composition. I can't wait for Wasington.
Von Trier's Brechtian Gamble On Manderlay This time "liberal" is a
dirty word By Jayson Harsin
"The movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society . . . America must be born again!" Martin Luther King Jr. 1967
"Dear (American) liberals, You're Idiots! Love, Lars."
In a nutshell, that is the message of Manderlay, controversial Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier's latest effort. Yet Manderlay is a complicated film that will produce multiple interpretations. Some will walk away calling it racist and anti-American. Others will find it a condemnation of Bush's war in Iraq. Yet, as I say, it is mostly a critique of American liberal politics. A condemnation of conservative racial politics is its point of departure. The film's complicated style and extreme plot produce intentional uneasiness.
Von Trier has cited German playwright Bertolt Brecht (right) as an artistic inspiration; yet one may wonder if he is reinventing the Brechtian wheel, one that Brecht himself admitted did not turn for others as he had wished.
On one level, the film is set in 1930s Alabama, on a plantation called Manderlay, where 70 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery is apparently still being practiced. Continuing the narrative of Dogville, Grace (now Bryce Howard), after touring with her gangster father (now Willem Dafoe) and his thugs since her departure from Dogville, stumbles upon Manderlay with her father's entourage. She is alerted to the anachronistic existence of slavery by a slave who asks her for help. Her father asserts that this is a "local matter," echoing a common Southern response to Federal intervention in race problems that was often coded through "states' rights." It specifically recalls the language of Martin Luther King's powerful "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in which he responded to Southern clergymen who had accused him of, among other things, being a meddling outsider.
White liberal American intellectuals will no doubt have a hard time resisting identification with the white do-gooder Grace, who, like the North, the Federal government, and the social worker, believes that race relations at Manderlay are in moral terms not a local matter. "We have a moral obligation," Grace says to her father, as she persuades him to loan her gangster firepower to oversee her reform initiative.
But King was African-American and Grace is white. Should that matter? It matters in terms of Von Trier's audience (mostly American art cinema liberals and European intellectuals). It also matters for the history of white social and policy reactions to "the race problem," liberal and conservative responses, from segregation to integration, welfare to workfare, white flight to affirmative action. Grace's color is extremely significant. Resonances with Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust and Absalom, Absalom can also be found in the simplicity of the white liberal Northerner's analysis and solution to race problems. In this sense, Von Trier's provocative film is perhaps above all else an indictment of American liberalism (or liberal individualism), domestically and globally. All of these aspects should be considered through the lens of his Brechtian alienation techniques. Otherwise, this turns out to be one of the most ignominiously racist films since Birth of a Nation.
First, domestically: the historical debate about freedmen and resistance to them is important. While one could go back further, the contradictions of the modern liberal-race problem invoked by Von Trier date from the end of the Civil War. From 1865-1867, white southerners made very little effort to welcome African-Americans into a reborn American society (symbolized by the historically altered Constitution). The Ku Klux Klan together with the Black Codes terrorized African-Americans physically and deprived them of education and the legal franchise. While some American historians have noted the important changes of freedmen and -women marrying; establishing households, schools, and churches; owning 20 percent more land during the Reconstruction years others emphasize that even so, the country did not solve the problem of race. And the South in particular, in terms of land reforms, enfranchisement, and education, was not ready to change of its own accord. Many African-Americans exercised agency and made valiant efforts to become self-sufficient, yet they faced no little opposition from the planter class and some poor whites (even though evidence exists of some alliances between African-Americans and poor whites).
While Von Trier's film does little to emphasize the efforts made by African-Americans to exercise their freedom in the ways I've noted, it is virtuosic at portraying the structures many faced when they set foot off the plantation (symbolized by a shortlived character who, venturing off the plantation, waits for a sympathetic woman, a white reformer like Grace, but finds bloodthirsty white men instead). The role of a traveling salesman huckster also portrays the white mediation of emancipation through debt peonage and sharecropping. The failure of Reconstruction with the Compromise of 1877 brought a more precarious period of civil and economic life to African-Americans in the South.
And yet Manderlay makes claims to a historical context in the 1930s. Here von Trier's dramatic vehicle of slavery existing in the 1930s is again more metaphorical than realist. The point is that while the furniture of racism was rearranged, it was still the same racist edifice. In addition, the role of an African-American leader is played by Wilhelm (Danny Glover), a house slave entrusted with knowledge of the entire Manderlay plantation rules and governance. Echoing views of nineteenth-century African-American leader Booker T. Washington, Wilhelm's analysis is that under the conditions at Manderlay, his people will meet a better life by consenting to the old social structures. The fact that armed gangsters must enforce the redistribution of social roles on one piece of property, which disappears when they disappear, is not a little reminiscent of Reconstruction military occupation of the South and its aftermath. To read on, see the full review at http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/51/manderlay.htm
I won't disclose anything about the film. I liked it very it much, albeit slightly less than the first film, probably because, well, the first was very fresh and innovative in the way it presented this "theatrical" world and partly because of the shocking and raw power of the story of "Dogville". In "Manderlay" we also meet with hypocrisy and cruelty, but the movie moves on a different level than "Dogville". It is clearly more philosophical-political, it carries a more visible political agenda. It also relies upon dialogue more than "Dogville" did and of course the symbolism and allegory of the first film are present here, as well. Still, the movie is a masterpiece, in the same way "Dogville" was. Of course, someone can think otherwise (not to mention those people that will accuse Trier of being "Anti-American"), but having a different opinion about it is okay and acceptable. Personally, I can't wait to see how the trilogy is going to conclude.
A person may not have to see "Dogville" before they get to this film--
but it helps. Von Trier takes his time getting where he is going,
laying tracks in plenty of directions, and if you are not familiar with
his style and don't know that it will all end with a colossal crunch,
you may feel bored or confused. Fear not, though-- this movie's climax
and finish depend wholly on the build-up, and when they happen they are
shattering. In a shorter movie with less nuance and fewer ideas
presented, it would just be exploitation.
Critics who say that Lars von Trier is just grinding an axe and that his views on America are unwelcome and inaccurate are missing the larger point. So far the two movies of his new trilogy seem to be seething with questions, not preaching answers. The spectrum of perspectives and philosophies presented make these movies themselves as experimental as the moral quests of Tom in "Dogville" and Grace in "Manderlay". We get to share initial outrage, labor for a solution, and then despair in how easily it all falls apart once human weakness and natural disaster are factored in.
Adjusting to the change of casting takes a few moments, but then it just fits right in with the theatrical nature of these movies. Anyone who has seen a play performed with different casts knows that the two productions are weird cousins, and this can make actors shine in their individual gifts. I would have loved to see Nicole Kidman devour this role, but Howard's youth and vulnerability really add to the tenuous nature of her power over Manderlay and its dark secrets.
I think it's lucky that von Trier is not an American. If an American director showed these images of oppression and slavery, he'd be reviled even moreso, especially if he were white. Americans demand "sensitivity" from movies about real issues, and violence and humiliation are really only safe subjects in horror films and art cinema. Sometimes it takes an outsider to show you what you look like to the world and remind you of the work you have left to do. This movie feels distinctly American in its woe and in it's heartsickness at good deeds gone not unpunished. Isn't change impossible? Haven't we given it our best shot already? "Manderlay" agrees with us-- but urges us to keep trying.
In 1933, after leaving Dogville, while traveling with her father
(Willem Dafoe) and his gangsters to the south of USA, Grace Margaret
Mulligan (Bryce Dallas Howard) sees a slave ready to be punished in a
property called Manderlay. The slavery had been abolished seventy years
ago, and Grace becomes revolted with the attitude of the owners of
Manderlay, keeping slaves in their cotton fields and following
predetermined despicable rules called "Mam's Law". Grace decides to
stay with some gangsters in Manderlay and give notions of democracy to
the slaves and to the white family. When harvest time comes, Grace sees
the social and economical reality of Manderlay.
"Manderley" is the second part of Lars von Trier trilogy initiated with the awesome "Dogville" and following the same aesthetic of theatrical scenarios. I was impressed with the magnificent performance of the gorgeous actress Bryce Dallas Howard that I know only from her minor participation in "Book of Love" and her lead role in "The Village". The screenplay of "Manderlay" is great, with the narrative being very well conducted by John Hurt, and in spite of having no action and being developed in a low pace, the plot is interesting until the very last scene. I did not understand the point of Lars von Trier in the end, since Grace defends the democratic principles inclusive with the suffrage, but Wilhelm tells her that "she sent the guns away too soon". Therefore, does Mr. von Trier believe that guns are necessary to establish democracy? Or is he making an analogy to the present situation in Iraq, showing that democracy can not be reached by the use of force? Another point is the social and economical situation of the poor former slaves, free only in laws but without condition to survive seventy years after the abolishment of slavery. The same happened in Brazil and I believe in the countries that used slave labor, therefore the wounds exposed in Manderlay are universal, and not only an American issue. The kind of assistance that Grace gives to the former slaves is full of good intentions and does not resolve their situation, since she has never reached the root of their problem. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "Manderlay"
I have already several years ago decided that Lars von Trier's movies
can neither be called good or bad, they are always different and
thought provoking but most certainly also irritating and annoying.
Manderlay is no exception.
Our heroin spots a dictator on the axis of evil, storms in with light sabers and an ever-optimistic smile, brushes away the dictator and her regime, and is proud of having brought freedom and democracy to yet another place (any similarities with other persons - living or dead - are fully intentional and of course debatable).
But how do you make democracy work when people have not learned it through practice and the collective memory of democracy's fallacies since the ancient Greek city states. How do you make people value their freedom and be responsible for their own fortune, when it is much more comfortable to blame someone else for their fate.
Von Trier brilliantly and ironically discusses these issues with surprising twists in the plot. But he will most definitely offend all kinds of Americans who will be too rash to judge this movie as anything between a misunderstanding and an insult of the American people of whatever color.
Bryce Dallas Howard (Grace) delivers a great performance.
To make a movie on an almost naked stage with imaginary doors etc. is very different from anything else and it actually could contribute to focus more on the actors performance (as on a theater stage). But I think that the hasty cutting of scenes and the annoyingly shaky hand-held camera actually diminish the actors chances of delivering a forceful performance. I don't mind the hand-held camera of the Dogma movies, but this is no Dogma movie. It has "artificial" music, sound effects, lightning, requisites, etc. So why bother to have a hand-held camera.
Manderlay is an excellent movie for anybody who enjoys being provoked or how wants to confirm her/his prejudice about von Trier as a weird director with tendencies to be proud-to-be-old-Europe.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the age of quick cut MTV-style action packed cinema, danish director
Lars von Trier brings welcome relief in the form of minimalist
backdrop, and insightful dialogue. Reality TV eat ya heart out.
Manderlay is the second film in Lars von Trier's "USA - Land of Opportunities" trilogy, in which the Danish writer/director takes an outsider's observations on American society, culture and politics.
Following on from Dogville (2003), Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) is separated from her gangster Father (Willem Dafoe) in the town of Manderlay and the cotton plantation owned by Mam (Lauren Bacall), run by her small population of slaves (including Danny Glover).
Idealist Grace decides that it is her duty to "free" the slaves, unbeknownst to her that the slaves don't want to be "freed" and want Grace to take over as "Mam". Institutionalised and compartmentalised into groups by traits previously, the former slaves once freed, force Grace to enact tough gangster justice on the ill-disciplined and the unfortunate.
A hard critique on Black America for preferring the safe life of servitude and full bellies, instead of seeking full and unconditional freedom. Both the elder black statesman Wilhem (Danny Glover) and the young proud black buck Timothy (Isaach De Bankolé) both sell out their own people in each his own way.
In the end, its the liberal black man that is hanging at the tree by his neck, and Grace finds out that proud Black America prides itself on being "who we are because you made us".
Poor idealistic Grace could only whip them and run away as fast and as far as she could from these Graduate Americans.
LVT takes the moral high grounds in this second part of the trilogy on human nature and weakness (not seen Dogville yet), and Bryce Dallas Howard gives a "wide-eyed innocence of youth" performance. Danny Glover and the rest of the cast carry her and the film to a higher level.
LVT Concludes the film with a photo montage of American racial injustice, from Martin Luther King Jr to Rodney King to Dubya.
He misses out Condeleeza, but maybe her time will come in the third part "Washington".
I was expecting something very inferior to Dogville, which is, but i forgot that it did not need to be as good to be great. Again, one or another person (many of them not very bright) will say that it's only anti-American crap, but, again, it's more, way more than that: a brutal critic to the idealism which recognizes no national barriers and can be applied to any ideology, without any exception that i know; Communism/Socialism and Christianism specially comes to my mind; Grace could be seen as the socialist leader who brings the Marxism and releases the workers (the slaves) from oppression of the bourgeoisie (Mam and her family), or the priest with the word of God to the savages (again the slaves), and punishing the sinners (Mam and her family one more time). The weak point is that aesthetically is not close to be as interesting as his previous film, and i think that Trier knew it and so the style is not so important here. Bryce Dallas Howard delivers a great performance, and does not try to imitate Nicole Kidman, but create her own vision of the character, like they were 2 sides of the same person. In my opinion, this one is only edged by Dogville in Von Trier's career.
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