Film Review: Manifesto

Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto has promise, but ultimately fails to connect with viewers. For all the ideas the film extols, the end result is noticeably flat.

Numerous characters extol the words of different theorists, critics, and artists who have each written a manifesto on art. The subjects range from architecture to conceptual art, from originality to the point of art itself.

Written and directed by Rosefeldt, Manifesto seeks to express the ideas and beliefs of various thinkers on the subject of art. To do so, the filmmaker has enlisted Cate Blanchett to play a variety of characters who deliver their words. The theorists and critics quoted include Karl Marx, Guy Debord, and Werner Herzog.

These characters do not have names or back stories, instead they are a series of characters who fulfil various archetypes. These include the rock star, the teacher, and the Wall Street businesswoman. Some of these pieces are more interesting than others. For example, the newsreader delivering a report with a difference is an inventive way that conveys the message.

Ultimately, however, the film does not fully engage its audience. Although the premise is sound, the execution falls short. Some of the chapters are too long, whilst others simply are not interesting. Although some of the ideas the film relays are interesting, these aren’t conveyed in a way that grabs the attention. In some ways the film may have worked better as a documentary about theorists and creators on art.

Cate Blanchett shape shifts into a dozen characters, showing a broad range. Her performances are great. Blanchett changes appearance and accent and a drop of the hat, but more significantly the body language is always apt. It is a shame she is only given one-dimensional archetypes to work with.

If it had been pulled off Manifesto could have been a fascinating film that pulled a wider audience into the world of art theory and criticism. In spite of Blanchett’s considerable talent, the film lacks a spark.

Manifesto is being screened as the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.