Sundance Diary, Day 5: ‘Manifesto,’ ‘The Polka King,’ ‘Lemon,’ ‘Tell Them We Are Rising’
PARK CITY, UTAH: Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto – which exists as both a video art installation and a feature film, the latter premiering yesterday at Sundance – banks on a daring and risky big idea: decades’ worth of manifestos by artists of all stripes, brought to life by Cate Blanchett in something like a dozen different personas (we reviewed the installation of the same name in New York). The manifesto authors and their quotes come at us in giant block letters that fill the opening montage, barely onscreen long enough to register: “Art requires truth, not sincerity,” “All current art is fake,” that kind of thing. You see the dangers here – this could’ve been an unbearably pretentious and self-important work. But instead, it’s inspiring and inspired, as well as (and this helps) very funny.
Rosefeldt works up admirably clever pairings of text and image. He and his star stage these didactic proclamations in seemingly incongruous settings: as funeral eulogy, PA system announcement, dinner prayer, drunken dive bar ramble (“Who among us is most sincere?”), cocktail party chatter (“The rich are now bores, without exception.” “Yes, quite!”), toast, backstage announcement, TV news report (and crosstalk with an on-scene reporter, also played by Blanchett), grade school art teacher’s lecture, and more. It’s roughly akin to what a director like Michael Almereyda does when modernizing Shakespeare – finding ways to mold unchanging words to a space or character where they shouldn’t fit, but do. And, unsurprisingly, it’s a bravura acting exercise for Blanchett, not in the variety of characters and accents (the depth and diversity of what she can do continues to amaze), but in acting texts that were never intended as dramatic dialogue, and making them work in that specific way.