Beaucoup de Blanchetts in exhausting intellectual exercise Manifesto

By Jim Slotek

This happened while watching the Cate-Blanchett-plays-everybody art-film Manifesto. I was thinking at one point about how this was like one of those angrily ambiguous, late-career Jean-Luc Godard films, of which I’m not a fan.

Suddenly, with impeccable timing, one of Blanchett’s many dogma-spouting characters, an elementary school teacher, actually quoted Godard to a class of children! Perfect.

So there, in a metaphysical nutshell, is a point of comparison for this attempt to render accessible academic theories of art by putting them into the mouths of 13 mostly-ordinary men and women (all of them played by Cate Blanchett).

Nearly all of the many faces of Cate Blanchett in Manifesto

Nearly all of the many faces of Cate Blanchett in Manifesto

It’s ambiguity as art, and a gimmick that comes off as a tad classist and superior (“What if we had a U.S. Southern mom calling her family to stereotypical bourgeois ‘grace,’ and then have her ‘pray’ at length for art that reflects the mundane and messiest realities of life – using the words of American sculptor Claes Oldenburg? Oh, wouldn’t that be fun!”).

Since no homeless people, school teachers, blue collar workers or homemakers will be watching this movie, the characters seem like props, smug sounding-boards for philosophical notions dating back to the 19th Century.

As an erstwhile arts major myself, I heartily recommend Manifesto for anybody working on their Masters or PhD. It’s both primer and an exhilarating game of “spot the school of art.” There’s Dadaism, Futurism, Situationism and the whole “smash the mundane” film ethos of Lars von Trier’s Dogma 95.

As for me, I’m getting a headache just writing this.

But I can see the appeal for Blanchett, whose chameleon-like acting skills (think her portrayal of Bob Dylan in Todd HaynesI’m Not There) get the workout of her life here.

Besides the vagrant, the teacher and the mom, she’s a puppeteer manipulating a puppet of herself, a TV anchor and the reporter she throws to, a power-plant employee in an industrial work-suit, and a Russian ballet choreographer whose belief-system of art is the most militaristic of the bunch.

It’s impressive acting, and even manages at times to lift Manifesto into something more than a barrage of visually-interesting, high-minded verbiage.

It should be said that director/writer Julian Rosefeldt anticipated that some (like me) would not get it, since he ends the movie with a manifesto against critics.

“You don’t judge us, we will judge you!” Blanchett declares in her vagrant persona.

Hey, you’re a little late. We get judged every day on Twitter.

Manifesto. Directed by Julian Rosefeldt. Starring Cate Blanchett. Opens Friday June 30 at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. 

Jim Slotek

Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.