Sunday, September 11, 2005

Manderlay (Lars von Trier)

Manderlay (Lars von Trier) 74 – Practically nothing would have felt like a worthy successor to Dogville, but Manderlay is better than I had expected it to be after its mixed Cannes reception. In this movie, presented unmistakably as an allegory for the United States’ tendency to play big brother to “less fortunate” nations, Grace (played here by Bryce Dallas Howard, in a performance far inferior to Nicole Kidman’s Dogville turn) meddles in “a local matter” when she discovers a plantation still operating with slaves, seventy years after the abolition of slavery. The setup seems tough to swallow at first, since it lacks the damsel-in-distress factor that made Dogville so immediately gripping, but ultimately the story becomes involving.

Trier’s sense of humor helps a lot here, and even though the narrative this time out is more straightforward than in Dogville and the shock quotient lower, the ending still reproaches liberal condescension with considerable punch. The snappier pacing is very noticeable, but it’s somewhat lamentable, too, since the characterizations tend to be less fully calculated to sting the liberal-minded viewer’s assumptions. Grace is the lone exception, here acting more as an individual with an agenda of her own than in Dogville, which seems to limit Manderlay’s overall ambiguity (even if her meddling is necessary for the central allegory to work).

Complaints, aside, it's an extremely solid, if less than astonishing, piece of work. Second-rate Dogville is still first-rate by any other rule, apparently.

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