Kazimir Malevich once said that "Art requires truth, not sincerity", and this is one of the many famous quotes that is referred to in Manifesto, Julian Rosefeldt's latest artistic experiment. Another message that runs throughout the film is that nothing is original and that every artist borrows from something or someone else. All that this text does is borrow from something else, showing that the film is incredibly self-aware. But does this necessarily mean that it should be allowed to escape criticism?
The star of the film is Cate Blanchett, who recites famous manifestos in various modern-day scenarios as 13 different characters. These include a tattooed punk, a stylish choreographer, a slightly unnerving puppeteer and, my personal favourite, a homeless man. For die-hard lovers of Blanchett, this is almost definitely an experience that you will adore. She makes each character memorable by providing them with a distinct personality and voice, and she is so convincing at times that you can virtually see her disappear into the roles and become these characters. The viewer only gets to spend approximately ten minutes with each of her personas, but Blanchett ensures that you do have fun in their company.
However, the repetitive narrative structure of Manifesto is what really lets the film down. Each segment follows the same pattern; the viewer is thrown into a scenario with one of Blanchett's characters without any context, the character then proceeds to say something profound about art and, before you are given time to let this particular moment sink in, you are thrown into a completely different setting with a new Blanchett character. Rinse and repeat for an hour and a half and we have a film.
There is a lot of stunning and striking imagery here, and it does cleverly incorporate settings and situations that are appropriate for each individual manifesto. The opening sequences are particularly interesting, displaying the scraps and junk that humanity has dumped carelessly on Earth, while Blanchett (in her homeless man persona) angrily challenges this with powerful words. This is initially effective, but when this marriage of visuals and narration is constantly reiterated, the novelty wears off and starts to feel like a gimmick. It becomes so obvious that you already have an idea of what Blanchett will say as her next persona. This film, as a concept, runs out of ideas, as well as compelling challenges.
A project like this is going to have a very difficult time finding its audience; how many people can you think of who would be excited to listen to Cate Blanchett (as wonderful as she is) declaim famous words from various manifestos? As great as it is to see such an original film like this still being released today, the whole concept feels slightly too abstract, and even quite smug at times.
The greatest films tend to provide you with the opportunity to consider some complex concepts without talking down to their audience. Manifesto, meanwhile, seems to always be telling you how to think about art, nature and life. It appears to think that it has all of the answers, but you are not convinced that it does after it ends. For some viewers, it will feel like a breathtaking and truthful experience. For me, Manifesto felt more like a lecture.