Quarter Life Crisis

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Manderlay

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Two things in Lars von Trier’s current film, Manderlay, aren’t central but leave a very good impression. One of them is the Glaser Stencil typeface seen on the posters and in the film and the other is David Bowie’s Young Americans which is played during the closing credits with a bunch of racism related photos of the U.S. in the background.

a bit of Manderlay text in Glaser Stencil with a horse and rider seen behind it

And the U.S. play a central role in the Film. In fact it is said the be the second of an American trilogy by Lars von Trier after Dogville. It continues to tell the story of Dogville’s protagonist Grace who isn’t played by Nicole Kidman this time and drives through the country with her father. They happen to pass a place where slavery still exists seven decades after it has been abolished. Being the good girl that she is, she wants to change that and free those black slaves – much to the dismay of her father who tells her that just freeing them won’t do much good to the people.

And of course things look like they’d go downhill pretty fast, so Grace decides to stay around and make sure the former slaves learn enough about free life before having to face its tough sides. All this takes place on the farm which is now operated by the former slaves and which, just like Dogville, is put on stage-like without any buildings but just their outlines drawn on the floor.

During the year that Grace stays pretty much everything goes wrong. From disagreements to incompetence on both her and the former slaves’ sides. From hunger to theft to murder or death penalty. And in the end to the majority agreeing that their former state of slavery was actually good and wanting to re-instate it. A step that seems as understandable as it seems wrong.

So, after a somewhat lenghty 139 minutes of film, you’re left with that bit of drama and fade over to David Bowie. I wonder how you’d perceive the film if it ended without those photos and with Me and Bobby McGee playing.

In the end I found the film a bit boring and more distant than von Trier’s other films including the formally similar Dogville. Perhaps his scheme of making a film look like theatre is wearing off quickly or his clever background voice is a bit too clever for its own good. I just don’t need ironic little comments for everything. Particularly not those which I can come up with myself pretty easily.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

November 17, 2005, 1:16

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