Manderlay

While it is a continuation of the story started with “Dogville,” “Manderlay” is not directly a sequel, and while the two films include a number of the same actors, not one of them plays the same role in both films, while the few recurring characters have been recast with new actors. Confusedr You shouldn’t be. The two are basically the same film. In “Dogville,” a beautiful young redhead named Grace arrives in a strange town isolated from the rest of the world, where her appearance sets of a series of unfortunate events. In “Manderlay,” a beautiful young redhead named Grace arrives in a strange town isolated from the rest of the world, where her appearance sets of a series of unfortunate events. Where Tom Edison was the do-gooder in Dogville whose attempts to bring about change to his small town leads to the catastrophic ending, it is Grace who takes Tom’s place in Manderlay whose attempts to bring about change to her newly discovered plantation which leads to its catastrophic ending. Same basic story, same basic ending, same basic allegory about Americans getting involvement in situations they don’t understand and were working without their assistance.

Is “Manderlay” worth the timer Only if you’re looking to get out your anti-Bush aggressions, and even then it’s a crapshoot. Produced with the exact same thematic style as its predecessor, with its bare stage filled with only a handful of props, the director’s myopic vision of the world and droll narration by John Hurt, “Manderlay” brings nothing new to the cinematic experience. Like “Dogville,” “Manderlay” shows that having a great cast is not a harbinger against a poorly structured story. Every actor known to most audiences, from screen veterans Lauren Bacall, Willem Dafoe and Danny Glover and foreign film faves Isaach De Bankole and Udo Kier to newer movie stars Jeremy Davies, Bryce Dallas Howard and Chloe Sevigny, have done far better work, with the only compliment being that not one of them saw fit to overact any specific scene (the one saving grace of the entire film, outside of Anthony Dod Mantle’s exquisite photography).

While watching the film, one cannot help but question some of the things Von Trier has his characters say, most specifically when Grace defends her actions, liberating the “slaves” of Manderlay, by stating we (meaning the whites of America) “made them what they are.” Conveniently ignoring Denmark’s own contribution to the entrapment and enslavement of Africans, Von Trier’s ascertain that all whites should feel guilty about slavery is a statement only an incredibly guilty liberal or a person with an outside political agenda would say. Yes, America had and continues to have many problems between blacks and whites one hundred and forty years after the end of The Civil War and almost a half century after the major thrust of the Civil Rights movement, but playing the blame game, as Von Trier is wont to do, only exasperates the situation. (It is also telling that Von Trier, in the press notes for this film, feels it is a telling sign that “every major town or city in the USA with respect for itself has a Holocaust museum, but none has a museum of the racial oppression that took place in the USA,” unable to realize that the majority of Holocaust memorials were created, supported and built not by the American government but by private citizens of the Jewish faith, not because of any lack of effort on the part of the American government, or that there has been a major push in the United States the past few years to create a number of slavery memorials, mostly by politicians.)

Von Trier’s movies are a living example of the paradigm “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” Insulated from our world inside his studios in Sweden and Denmark, never bothering to come to America to observe both the good and bad of American race relations and American politics, his last few works seem less like authentic storytelling than blind demagoguery. However, the joke is on Von Trier, as most Americans are painfully aware of how much things suck in their country, and don’t need an outsider to harangue us on what needs to change.

In the end, “Manderlay” will likely end up following the same path as its antecedent: a quick burst of good reviews from like-minded reviewers and an even quicker box office death.

Rating: D
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