Sneak Preview: "Manderlay"

by scrumtrelescent
September 29, 2005 3:15 AM
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Because there hasn't been nearly enough controversy in the last few hours, I thought I'd weigh in briefly on Manderlay, and await the inevitable shitstorm.

Manderlay is ultimately a less interesting film than Dogville because its underlying allegory is so overwhelmingly transparent. An outsider liberating an unwilling (and unprepared) plantation and teaching them the ins and outs of democracy—sound familiar? Yet it's still an extraordinary film, every bit as worthy as its predecessor. Obvious schema and politics aside, Trier does render some acute, ideologically neutral observations on democracy, economic systems, gender, racism, anthropology, humanitarian intervention and the pratfalls of dilettante liberalism (okay, so maybe not always so neutral).

Let me forestall the inevitable criticism: if Trier's pandering to the left, there's little value in preaching to the choir; and if slamming the right, his arguments will fall on deaf patrons. As always, he's didactic, but I'm tired of fiction films being so apolitical; I believe it's far better to have irate, engaged (if self-aggrandizing) filmmakers shouting into the wind. But If you can for a minute give Trier the benefit of the doubt and forgive his former showy pretensions, there's less hucksterism on display in Manderlay. And he does something that I had been yearning for in Dogville. Trier actually addresses the drama's Brechtian performativity—and in so doing, renders his homily much more potent.

Granted, Bryce Dallas Howard is no Nicole Kidman—she can't conjure the bruised, steely fuck you that Nic bequeathed at the end of Dogville, and for a moment I swear she resembled Molly Ringwald. Kidman's presence added an emotional punch that subdued the awkwardness of overt political declarations. Howard is not charismatic enough to do the same (though to be fair, I get the feeling that the opening act's exposition is deliberately clunky).

Manderlay is by far the most idea-rich film I've seen this year, one that definitely warrants a second (or third) viewing. Anyone got an extra ticket?

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  • brotherfromanother | October 1, 2005 1:49 AMReply

    Manderlay = bait
    y'all = takers

  • johnnyguitar | September 30, 2005 6:23 AMReply

    "I'm amused that von Trier managed to snooker the American press with his Dogma 95 manifesto, whose professed aim was to get back to the basics of realism. I'm equally amused that so many of my colleagues routinely overlook his company's production of porn through its Puzzy Power branch. My interest is less moralistic than aesthetic: his supposedly more serious work has the same aesthetic limitations as porn"
    -Jonathan Rosenbaum

  • Sean McAvoy | September 30, 2005 4:47 AMReply

    Re: Yup: "the tossing out of ideas unformulated, unthought out and of mild yet controversial interest".

    Oh, the irony.

  • eshman | September 30, 2005 3:07 AMReply

    "cryptic ned"? We're on to you, Lars.

  • eshman | September 30, 2005 3:04 AMReply

    The moment when the plantation "votes" on the time of day is a surefire laugh-getter (especially with the disenfranchised and deeply fucked Moscow crowd I first saw it with), but a perfect example of the strawmen that Lars specializes in. Ha! Voting on the time. Ha! That's what voting's all about, right? Um, no. No it's not. At all. Doesn't happen that way. Or maybe he does know better, and the joke is really on the white chick who condones the vote. Vintage Lars. Can't pin him down to either utter stupidity or easy misogyny.

  • clarencecarter | September 29, 2005 9:37 AMReply

    But whoever tracked the blog back to "Free Dog Fuck" was a genius.

  • Cryptic Ned | September 29, 2005 6:56 AMReply

    Wow, everyone who has posted on this thread is very stupid.

  • filmenthusiast2000 | September 29, 2005 5:52 AMReply

    Hahaha! "Lars Van Trier." Dude is savvy, perhaps, but dumber than a box of hair. Watch 'The Five Obstructions' for further illustration--there's plenty of "ideas" flying around, but if you take a moment to isolate and examine any ony of them, you'll find you've merely caught hold of one turd flake in a blurted shitstorm of gibberish. But keep the stillborn ideas coming fast enough and I guess you'll get a reasonable facsimile of importance--but Bernard Berkman, with his dogged, rigorous allegiance to the pleasures of the dense and difficult, seems to me a far more intellectually sympathetic pompous ass... If this movie is more "idea-rich" than 'DOOM,' you can color me surprised.

    'Dogville' just gave me a yen to watch 'Rocky IV' on loop so I that I could remember I'm living in THE SWEETEST FUCKIN' COUNTRY ON EARTH!!!

    U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

  • robbiefreeling | September 29, 2005 2:46 AMReply

    Lars von Trier initiating controversy! Well, shiver me timbers. Perhaps after this weekend I'll return to this little sewing circle and put this battle at an even deadlock, or perhaps not. Until then, I'm gonna go sing and sing and then act mildly retarded and then sing and then go blind and then sing and then bash a cop's head in with a strongbox and then sing and act mildly retarded and then get arrested because all I wanted to do was give my son an operation so he wouldn't go blind like me and then sing and then get hung.

    Dogville rocks.

  • Werebiginjapan | September 29, 2005 2:18 AMReply

    I find all of that far less interesting than the quiet stuff that goes on underneath the bombastic (and as I said, transparent) allegory and BIG STATEMENTS, like the little moment where the plantation "votes" on what the time should be. It doesn't say that democracy is a sham, but more subtly suggests its limits. Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water.

    And John Hurt's ironic, detached voice over undermines any alignment the film makes to any of the melodrama played out on the stage.