“Manifesto” began life as an art installation commissioned for the Art Gallery of NSW and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. It has been described as an echo chamber of philosophical discourse with Cate Blanchett performing the dialogue as an array of different male and female characters to mutate and enhance the messaging. “Manifesto” the film literally takes that show on the road and reimagines this carefully staged installation extolling a series of ideas (from the likes of Futurists, Dada, “Lars von Trier's Dogma 95.”, Yvonne Rainer and Jim Jarmusch) and grafts them into a stream of consciousness feature length film that the ‘PR’ calls ‘an artistic call to action.’ Consider this review, a call to avoid it.
“Manifesto” became a portal in my mind to recall and reflect on Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life.” Linklater’s rotoscoped animation experiment that accidentally became a masterpiece. “Waking Life” takes a similar premise (takes musings on consciousness) and road tests an alternative delivery (stitches them together in theme and style). “Manifesto” suffers the opposite fate because the delivery of the message resonates as well as the conception of the locations of the characters.
“Waking Life” heightens the audience’s perception of the lofty and dense concepts with the rotoscoped animation. In the same way that mind altering substances have an ability to chemically perforate the ‘blood brain barrier’ in your mind to alter the way it fires; rotoscoped animation comforts you with the reality of conversation and filter it through primal colours and organic animated shapes that morph into presentation accompaniments. The implicit benefit of the delivery of the content is that while in momentary lapses in the overall thesis of the film; the style holds your attention and focus.
The live action performance of “Manifesto” is stubbornly abstract, insistently ‘avant-garde’ intending to disrupt and challenge the viewer’s experience. The visual style has some occasional splashes of Terry Gilliam. The never-ending corporate world echoes “The Zero Theorem” starring Christophe Waltz; the puppeteer feels like the prop master from Gilliam’s previously failed “Lost in La Mancha.” The settings, Blanchett’s characters, the delivery of these artistic manifestos unfold in settings and sequences designed, one assumes, because that setting reinforces the messaging therein. Despite the glorious set design, the beautifully decorated and framed variety of spaces and of course a series of great performance vignettes of Blanchett flexing her chameleon muscle memory as a homeless man, a preppy newsreader, a ballet choreographer and puppeteer; over and again these manifestos are like continuously wandering into a philosophy lecture a third of the way through.
There are some rare engaging vignettes in “Manifesto.” The post-apocalyptic, abandoned facilities where the homeless man delivers her dialogue through a megaphone; or the endless embankments of computers paired with Wall Street banking types feel connected to the content. The success isn’t necessarily in the words directly resonating with the images; it’s that holistic delivery that fosters that focus on the discourse within the delivery.
“Manifesto” may have been a vibrant, disorientating and fascinating art installation. As a film, it’s an agonising, mind numbing slog.