REVIEW: Manifesto

9 05 2017

Sundance Film Festival

Philosophically inclined critics (myself included) love to bloviate about the specific properties that separate cinema as constructed from other forms of art. It’s usually in regards to distinctions from the stage, but given the amount of visual artists utilizing pixels like paint, comparisons of the movie theater to the gallery space deserve consideration as well.

Julian Rosefeldt’s “Manifesto” cannot be fully understood without its origins as an art installation. The project began as a gallery exhibit where viewers walked through the space and encountered 13 screens, each of which featured Cate Blanchett manifesting the tenets an artistic manifesto. Viewers received guidance on how to proceed based on the order of the screens, but they were largely free to consume the segments at their own leisure. For all intents and purposes, they had the option to control their spatial and durational experience. (For those interested in learning more, allow me to shamelessly plug my interview with the director Julian Rosefeldt.)

I found myself envying those lucky enough to attend the gallery version of “Manifesto,” though Rosefeldt did assure me it would eventually resume touring. The feature length version does have plenty of merits, of course, namely its democratization. Millions more will have access to Rosefeldt’s audacious undertaking given its restriction to a single-screen experience. And in any form, a rigorous and creative attempt to breathe life into academic texts about the very nature of art is a welcome and worthy enterprise.

But “Manifesto” the narrative film is akin to sipping water from a firehose. It’s mainlining an entire semester of art history in 95 minutes. Watching the film becomes mentally taxing in the best kind of way. At countless times when my exhaustion threatened to overwhelm my comprehension, I desired the gallery experience of “Manifesto” where I could take in individual movements at my own pace. Undoubtedly, I could spend hours inside Rosefeldt’s world. I probably will. But I couldn’t at Sundance. B+

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