Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Manderlay (2005)

"I knew I was getting the irons but this is ridiculous!" (Cause it's a wrought iron fence, see? That's why it's funny)

Genre: Experimental Drama Serial (Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, France, Germany, UK)

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village; Lady In The Water), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon; The Color Purple)

Directed By: Lars Von Trier (The Five Obstructions; Dancer in The Dark)

Overview: In this sequel to Dogville, Grace discovers a plantation still living in slavery. She takes it upon herself to help the slaves become a free and democratic people.

Acting: With people like Willem Defoe, Lauren Bacall and Chloe Sevigny as secondary characters, you can expect this is one category where everyone excels. I'd wager that any film Lars von Trier directs is most likely going to be a career building film for anyone in it. I will say, however, that I had far too much trouble understanding the dialogue, and another take here and there would really have helped. For as much as all these people were magnificent in their roles, it was just too distracting too often.

Rating: 8

Cinematography: Those of you who've seen Dogville will recognize the ultra-original and artistic 'sound-stage' set up, though this time the stage is white rather than black and there are more props. This is experimental film and again Lars has pushed the artistic envelope to the edge (most likely too far for the mainstream crowd). This film is done more like a play, with lots of pantomime, bare frames and chalk outlines instead of actual buildings filled with furniture, and the occasional pretend object (doors, hoes, trees). There's more props in this one than there was in Dogville, and I found the camera effects (blurring, rapid fire editing, shaky shooting) to be a touch too distracting in comparison. Still the montage at the ending credits drove the point home like no scene could have and that, my friend, is quite the feat.
Rating: 9

Script: With such a bare stage we focus on the simply yet deep tale of oppression turned freedom. The speeches delivered by Willem Defoe, predicting the human nature of those without opportunity, the hopeful monologues of Grace as she does what she can to prove her father wrong, the words of the slaves as they come into this new existence... Every character, even the narrator, enhances every part of this grand morality play. Without the right words and the deeply emotional sentiments, this could have turned out a disaster. There's certainly something to be said about those who walk the tightrope without a safety net, and Lars' confidence is proof of his skill.
Rating: 10

Plot: Imposing democracy with the help of a few well placed hoods. For a man who's never set foot in America, von Trier seems to have a pretty good grasp of the American sentiment. In this, as in Dogville, we follow Grace as she rises to the test put before her. As we wait for the answer to the question "will she fall, and if so, how far?", we learn of life on the plantation, and study the human spirit when faced with such a drastic change as this new way of life: freedom. This is a wonderful concept study and has an ending worthy of the genius of von Trier.

Rating: 9

Mood: Typical Lars, but given my penchant for his darkness, it's more like a familiar welcome rather than predictable. Setting a literal stage for a morality play is bold imagery and with such diverse, rich characters that are more like caricatures from a fable, we are shown dramatically and perfectly the point the author is making. And just as the story ends, we're shot a heavy dose of reality. For the film to go from "ah yes, I see your point, what an interesting lesson" to stark photos from our racist past and present is that nice little nudge that we needed to get the audience to realize that this was not simply a witty fictional tale told by a wordsmith but a truth that was conveyed with flair.
Rating: 10

"Cletus, you can't be serious keepin all them ones! That hand don't adds up ta much!"

Overall Rating: 92% (Beat Down By The Man...derlay)

Aftertaste: For those of you who are just thinking "Squish just liked this because it was written and directed by Lars von Trier, who just so happens to be one of his top 5 Directors", I raise an eyebrow and say, "Hey, Stupid! He's one of my favorite directors because he makes movies as good as this one! Moron!" As moral lessons go, after you've left, you'll be looking at the perhaps less-noticeable race issues around you today with a bit more of a discerning eye. Important film, and in my opinion, the entire reason for this medium's existence. Allow yourself to be shaken out of your complacency, just a little.