DIR Lars Von Trier | Denmark/France/Germany/Netherlands/Sweden/UK, | 2005 | 139 min
Fri, Sep 30 | 9:30 pm | Visa Screening Room @Vogue
Sat, Oct 1 | 1:00 pm | Visa Screening Room @Vogue
Reviewed by Hugo Passarello Luna
Lars Von Trier is back with a history of violence in the US of the 1930s. The second part of a trilogy about America that started with Dogville, Manderlay takes Dogville’s character Grace (with Bryce Dallas Howard replacing Nicole Kidman) to a small cotton plantation called Manderlay in Alabama.
Manderlay is run by a dying older woman (Lauren Bacall) who still uses black slaves some 70 years after abolition. Grace unexpectedly arrives at the plantation just as Timothy, a strong slave, is about to be whipped. She decides not only to stop the whipping, but vows to end this oppressive system at Manderlay.
From the very beginning of the film, one cannot help but link its story to today’s news. Grace’s determination to introduce freedom, democracy and constitutional rights to the workers at Manderlay is conveniently similar to Bush’s declared mission in Iraq (at the end of the film, we even see photos of the President and troops stationed in Iraq).
The concept is very similar to Dogville - and to most of Trier’s films. A female main character is exposed to suffering despite her good intentions and naiveté. The set is, once again, minimal. It has no walls and contains only the most essential elements for the story to move on. Trier’s use of video instead of film proves valuable in conveying the story; at all times, we can see events from almost every point of view. The spectator has an exclusive view to this experiment in democracy.
One element critical to making sense of Manderlay is a book that the dying woman kept under her bed for years. With meticulous descriptions of every slave in Manderlay, the book orders them by rough psychological features (the proud slave, the pleasing slave, the wise slave, etc). Those words attest to decades of systematic, institutionalized oppression. However, the secrets of those pages become deeper, such as Grace’s problems trying to ‘free’ Manderlay.
The narrator offers the grim observation: “Black people were ready for America, but America was not ready for Black people.”