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December 18th, 2016 / No Comments

If the art world gave out Oscars, Cate Blanchett should win for her tour de force of starring roles in “Manifesto,” at the Park Avenue Armory. This toweringly ambitious, if occasionally pretentious film installation is the creation of Julian Rosefeldt, its writer, director and producer, a German artist drawn to complex narratives and fusions of real and cinematic space. His latest effort consists of 13 short films whose scripts are stitched together from nearly 50 manifestoes mostly by 20th-century artists, composers, architects and filmmakers. From Futurism to Pop Art and beyond, the writings layer knowledge, language and style into head-spinning densities. Some of these treatises were important turning points in art history; others are nearly forgotten.

The screens are the only light source, which guarantees a magical initial encounter. The first one focuses on a burning fuse. After all, manifestoes tend to be the inflammatory issue of angry, autocratic youth, usually male. They proliferated early in the last century (the first Futurist Manifesto dates from 1909), when artists increasingly saw themselves as rebels, out to transform their chosen media and society in the process. Logic fell out of favor, self-mythologizing did not. What better way to get attention than to gather together to announce the death of a previous art form and the birth of a new one.

Ms. Blanchett’s voice-over quotes the most famous sentence from Marx and Engels’s 1848 Communist Manifesto — “All that is solid melts into air” — then touches on the extremes of manifestoes from incendiary exhortation to laid-back parody. At one end is the manipulative Tristan Tzara, Dada’s founder, who begins adamantly, “To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC to fulminate against 1,2,3.” At the other, the gentle Philippe Soupault, a French Dadaist writer, is not looking for a fight: “I am writing a manifesto because I have nothing to say.”

The remaining 12 films belong to Ms. Blanchett. Some of her characters are passionate, about to explode; others are tranquil or tightly wound. To sit and watch (benches are provided) or to move among such intense, varied performances by one actor is thrilling, rare in a movie theater.

Mr. Rosefeldt sets his vignettes in contemporary settings with Ms. Blanchett doing all the talking, speaking the manifestoes directly or in voice-over. Her characters are quickly established, fully dimensional and strikingly varied in appearance, carriage and accent. They include an impressively competent stockbroker reciting Futurist manifestoes with a slight Queens accent; an icy chief executive quoting manifestoes on abstract painting as if announcing the company’s latest strategies; and an imperious Russian choreographer who rehearses a troupe of silver-garbed aliens more appropriate to Twyla Tharp, interspersing her impatient corrections with rebellious aphorisms from Fluxus and Performance artists. In “Funeral Speaker,” a redheaded Ms. Blanchett, channeling Shirley MacLaine at her most elegant, harangues the unperturbed mourners with inappropriate invectives from Dadaists.

It can take time to adjust to the intelligence Ms. Blanchett brings to each character and to absorb her words. Similarly, appreciating Mr. Rosefeldt’s accomplishment requires getting beyond his impeccable production values.

Everything about the films seems breathtakingly perfect — makeup and costume, set design and the agile cinematography of Christoph Krauss. Scenes were shot in Berlin, in or around striking architecture that becomes the film’s subtext, or may be its co-star. In all, these structures enrich the manifestoes, adding resonance, humor and teasing bits of symbolism. They place Mr. Rosefeldt’s work among the large staged images of photographers like Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson and Thomas Demand, as well as the intricately structured films of Eve Sussman and Stan Douglas.

Mr. Rosefeldt has plenty of ideas up his sleeve, and points about class, labor and especially gender. (All but one film stars a woman speaking rants written by men.) The least privileged of Mr. Rosefeldt’s characters is a tough single mother in green overalls and a hard hat who works at a garbage incinerator plant by day. We see her bent over a notebook as the sun rises: She appears to have been up all night writing a manifesto.

Some settings eerily corroborate the manifesto’s subject, as in “Scientist,” where pronouncements of early-20th-century Russian avant-gardists are broadcast in Big Brother overtones perfect for the sci-fi exteriors and interiors, right down to an intimidating horizontal black plinth hanging in midair like one of the Suprematist Kazimir Malevich’s levitating forms.

In contrast, Claes Oldenburg’s randy, gritty and indisputably urban Pop Art manifesto — “I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical” — is dragged down by being set in a bourgeois suburban household where his words become the noonday prayer for the family’s overly formal lunch, recited by Ms. Blanchett as a repressed housewife.

Ms. Blanchett delivers an especially impressive performance as a homeless man amid the ruined buildings and rubble of an abandoned chemical factory in the former East Berlin, a series of white structures in beautiful decay that anticipate the International Style. Statements by the Italian artist Lucia Fontana, the John Reed Club of New York and Guy Debord, the leader of Situationism, announce the collapse of capitalism and art. Nearby, she mesmerizes as a dissolute punk princess spouting mostly inspiring words of Manuel Maples Arce, the Mexican founder of the Dada-like Stridentism in 1921.

Once during each 11-minute cycle, all 12 screens align, showing Ms. Blanchett’s face in immense close-up as she speaks in rapid monotone, a bit like Philip Glass’s music. The robotic babble emphasizes the youthful autocratic ideology that often propels manifestoes. And artists telling other artists what to do is iffy. In the end, all artists must find what they need to do and what only they can do.

Mr. Rosefeldt points up this contradiction in the final segment (if you follow the counterclockwise map), featuring Ms. Blanchett as an elementary schoolteacher. First she inspires her students with the liberating words of the avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who advised everyone to “steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination,” adding that “originality is nonexistent.” Then, correcting their workbooks, she starts barking out some of the 10 commandments for filmmakers set by Dogma 95, a movement founded by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg to help cleanse moviemaking of overproduction. According to their manifesto, “shooting must be done on location”; “the camera must be hand-held”; “optical filters are forbidden.” Luckily, more liberating ideas, from Werner Herzog and the architect Lebbeus Woods, follow.

As a work of art, “Manifesto” may conform too much to the current taste for art as public, big-budget spectacle, but it is carefully wrought, thought provoking, elucidating and, for the most part, quite enjoyable. You will have fun and learn something, too, not least about the will and myopia required to be an artist — and that some manifestoes age much better than others. [Source]

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Ocean's Eight (2018)
Cate as Lou
Debbie Ocean gathers a crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City's yearly Met Gala.
Genre: Crime
More Info | Photos | IMDb

Mowgli (2018)
Cate as Kaa
An orphaned boy is raised in the wild.
Genre: Drama
More Info | Photos | IMDb

Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2018)
Cate as Bernadette Fox
After her anxiety-ridden mother disappears, 15-year-old Bee does everything she can to track her down, discovering her troubled past in the process.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
More Info | Photos | IMDb

The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)
Cate as Unknown
A young orphan named Lewis Barnavelt aids his magical uncle in locating a clock with the power to bring about the end of the world.
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Mystery
More Info | Photos | IMDb
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