"Cate Blanchett … is a masterclass in performance," wrote Indiewire after the premiere of Manifesto at the Sundance festival. Blanchett plays as many as 13 different roles, including a housewife, a teacher, a worker, a widow, a singer in a punk band, a homeless man, and television reporter. Each of her characters delivers fragments of famous artistic manifestos by writers and directors, painters and dancers, sculptors and poets, philosophers and architects, including Rodchenko, Apollinaire, Vertov, Jarmusch, Malevich, Tzara, Aragon, Breton, Rainer, von Trier, Marx, Maciunas, Herzog, and many, many others.
The work of German artist Julian Rosefeldt, with subtle musical accompaniment by Nils Frahm and Ben Lukas Boyens, Manifesto was first shown at galleries as an installation presented on 13 different screens. It is now beginning its next life-this time as a film.
In her performances, Blanchett not only shows acting artistry of the highest degree, but she and the characters she plays also test the power of certain 20th-century prophecies that Rosefeldt places in surprising-and sometimes hilarious-contexts. For example, the manifesto of Dadaism is presented in the form of a eulogy delivered by an angry widow ("We die either as heroes or idiots, which is all the same!"), while the words of Claes Oldenburg are turned into grace before a meal ("I am for art that imitates that which is human, that is comical when it needs to be, violent when it needs to be, but that always represents what is necessary," Blanchett says over a steaming turkey). In long, elegant shots, Christoph Krauss's camera portrays post-industrial landscapes, forces its way into into a tiny room in an apartment block, is immersed in the sterile interior of a research institute and in the darkness of a backstage party after a concert, and flows into the blue shade of a television studio. It also observes a well-lit classroom, where Blanchett is giving children a lesson on film manifestos (Stan Brakhage's Metaphors of Vision, 1963; Jim Jarmusch's Golden Rules of Filmmaking, 2002; Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg's Dogme95, 1995; Werner Herzog's Minnesota Declaration, 1999). She reminds her pupils of one of Jarmusch's golden rules: "Remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: 'It doesn't matter what you choose, what matters is what you do with what you choose.'" Manifesto is proof that Julian Rosefeldt and took this lesson to heart.