WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Set in the American South in the 1930ís, a young woman and her rich gangster father come across a plantation where slavery has not been abolished, as it has everywhere else 70 years earlier. She decides, much to the dismay of her father, to stay on and make sure civil rights are indeed enforced. But soon she realizes she is in for more than she bargains for and learns of the real secrets of the place called Manderlay.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
I hadnít seen Lars Von Trierís first outing with Nicole Kidman called DOGVILLE, of which MANDERLAY is the second in the trilogy and would probably not. (Plus if you have to see the first to get the second, I say donít call it a film !) While I applaud Von Trierís originality in creating a very new way of making a film, it doesnít disguise the fact that visually itís a tough sell. Like a dark soho artist, Von Trier stages the film as exactly that Ė a stage play . His sets are scarce, with no walls or doors (the actors mime them and sound shows that they are there), plus he has written words on the floor that stay throughout the entire film as a visual reminder of what is not shown. Add to that a series of incredibly uncomfortable jump cuts, completely jittery and bumpy handheld camerawork throughout, and a heavy-handed voice over narration by John Hurt and youíve got the essence of the film (if you could call it that !) MANDERLAY. So with all of this going on, the real test is if the story is good enough to overcome the distracting visual style, which unfortunately, itís not. So boring and long does it take for the story to even take shape, that when the few twists and turns to eventually happen, we no longer care. (And letís face it, the rest is too much to overcome !)
All the performances feel a bit wooden here, as they do in a lot of stage productions, but at least when youíre at a live play in person, there is an organic feeling that cannot be duplicated. Here it just feels like actors acting, especially from lead Howard, who feels a little too young to be taking on such a weathered and seasoned character. (Plus did we really need to see her completely buck naked, Lars ?) When you have such talented actors as Glover, Dafoe, and the wasted Lauren Bacall, and they all fall flat, there is a severe directing flaw. Von Trier, in his drive to create a new style of filmmaking, has ended up helming an overbearing, pretentious, distracting, and letís face it folks , downright annoying experiment and failed. When a film has me yearning to actually go see the stage production instead, thereís something really rotten in the state of MANDERLAY.
No extras here, which again, speaks volumes.
There are some forced trailers, but again, I donít like that!
When the director has to stoop to using harsh visuals during the end credit sequence to be seemingly provocative, someone needs to go back to school . Some critics have hailed the scarce visual style that Von Trier has employed in this film, saying it brings film back to the roots of character and acting, but there is virtually no evidence of it in MANDERLAY. Instead we are subjected to a distracting staged play that actually pulls more focus on the empty sets it was trying to steer you away from. Hey Lars , throw up a few doors and walls, you may find that there are some interesting secrets behind a few of them.