“Manifesto,” singular, is the title of this film, though it should be plural, because over Manifesto’s ninety-four minutes, Cate Blanchett performs just about every important art manifesto written in recent history. Marxists, Futurists, Dadaists, Pop Art, Fluxus, Structuralists, Anti-Structuralists, Minimalists, Dogma 95… the list goes on and on. These dramatic presentations are performed in settings appropriate for each manifesto. The settings either qualify the manifestos or confirm them.
So, Cate Blanchett, dressed as a mendicant, performs the Communist Manifesto in a decaying industrial landscape. The Dada Manifesto serves as the eulogy at a funeral. Cate Blanchett is the widow of Dada’s “death of everything.” The various cinema manifestos, the youngest of all art forms, are woven into an elementary classroom’s art assignment as instructed by Ms. Blanchett. Seeing where the filmmakers (writer/director Julian Rosefeldt) situate each manifesto is part of the fun of the film.
Yes, I found the film to be very fun. Cate Blanchett is one of our finest actors, and it’s delightful to see her embody these manifestos. The film is as much a celebration of acting as it is of artistic declaration. With a lesser actor, this film would have fallen apart regardless of the fire of the words or the creative places in which they are performed. This is, after all, a work of cinema, and in this case, the actor is the cinematic convention that makes this film work. Even her star persona is essential to this film. It is Cate Blanchett we are watching, an actor known for mercurial, transformative performances, for taking roles she disappears into. Surrendering to Blanchett’s performances, zeroing in on the emotional core of each scene, is the key to the film.
That’s not to say she distracts from the words she is speaking. These manifestos are as idiosyncratic as the movements they sparked. They each ring compellingly even as they contradict one another. The conviction that fueled these proclamations of artistic belief is the sound that echoes loudest throughout the film. That passion is still alive in them today. The truth the writers testified to is still true.
Manifesto made me want to write my own declaration of artistic intent. Would putting in well-formed words the convictions about process and form that guide my writing make those convictions hold firmer in my life? Would they inspire others to mimic my method? Would I even want that? Some manifesto writers certainly hoped for that outcome. Others didn’t. Others, I think, hoped still others would search themselves and craft manifestos of their own.
To make anything worth making, you must be possessed by a desire to see that thing realized in the world. To make art, you must be possessed by a form, to speak or act or write or sculpt or paint or collage or dance or craft it into being. Even if you never write it out, you must beholden to a belief about how that making should happen and what the result should be. Creation requires inspiration – in-spiriting. Find yours.
This review was originally published on January 23, 2017, during the Sundance Film Festival.