A woman on the run from the mob is reluctantly accepted in a small Colorado town. In exchange, she agrees to work for them. As a search visits the town, she finds out that their support has a price. Yet her dangerous secret is never far away.
After gangster Mulligan's (Willem Dafoe's) cars colony, fleeing northern justice, finds a hiding place in Alabama, spoiled, naive daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) refuses to travel on after seeing the Manderlay cotton plantation being run under slavery rules, called Mam's (Lauren Bacall's) law, including flogging. She keeps half of dad's goons as guard to force the dying matriarch-owner's heirs, which she shamelessly dispossesses and reduces to "staff", to taste destitution under absurd, gun-imposed contracts. The "slaves" are made free partners, supposed to vote for progress after lessons from Grace. But almost all of her democracy-pupils prove to be fickle, dumb, and selfish, except old Wilhelm (Danny Glover). Her and their ignorance in Southern planting and crafty Dixie ways means more problems are created then solved. By the time dad returns to pick her up or abandon her for good, she's the one who has learned and changed the most.Written by
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.
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