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UKScreen Rating:

Manderlay – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

During a stop-over on their journey through the southern states, Grace (Howard) and her gangster father (Dafoe) discover a cotton plantation where the white owners are still using black slaves, after the abolition of slavery.
Grace decides to stay behind to try to make the whites see the error of their ways, so her father presses on and leaves her on her own.
Over the weeks, bit by bit, Grace does her best to overhaul the plantation and bring it into a twentieth century that shares her values of equality.
But opposition comes from unexpected quarters, making Grace doubt her own principles.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

As the second in Von Trier’s trilogy, which began with Dogville, this uses the same spartan style, with no sets — only basic furniture scattered around a sound-stage, with walls marked with white lines painted on the floor.
With a powerful plot, pushing a meaningful message, the peculiar production values detract from the film – in many ways, it’s hard to take it seriously when people are reaching for door-handles that aren’t there and walking through imaginary doorways.
The film is a brave attempt to challenge the popular assumption that the slaves in the cotton fields wanted freedom, arguing that they might actually be more comfortable with the status quo – better the devil you know.
The style of the piece inevitably produces more theatrical performances from the leads – most of whom acquit themselves well, but others – like Sevigny – have almost nothing to do but to follow the main characters around to fill out the background – in that sense, again, it’s like the theatre, with principals and the chorus.
If you can forget about the fact that the characters are just walking around a sparcely furnished warehouse, this film has a lot to offer – concluding that there are never simple answers to anything.
But that could be a lot to ask for many viewers, who’ll see this is a pretentious example of style over what substance there is.

Opens nationwide 3rd March 2006

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