Film Review: MANIFESTO (Australia/Germany 2016) ***

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manifesto.jpgCate Blanchett performs manifestos as a series of striking monologues.

Director: Julian Rosefeldt
Writer: Julian Rosefeldt
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Erika Bauer, Ruby Bustamante

Review by Gilbert Seah

 It is best to know the definition of the term MANIFESTO before seeing this movie. According to Wikipedia, a manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or public consensus or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes the author believes should be made. It often is political or artistic in nature, but may present an individual’s life stance.

Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds.
The film integrates various types of artist manifestos from different time periods with contemporary scenarios. Manifestos are depicted by 13 different characters, among them a school teacher, factory worker, choreographer, punk, newsreader, scientist, puppeteer, widow, and a homeless man. All the characters are performed by 2-time Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett, as was envisioned to be performed by a female performer by German writer/director Julian Rosefeldt.

Visual artist Julian Rosefeldt crafts 13 distinct, vignettes that incorporate timeless manifestos from 20th century art movements weaving together history’s most impassioned artistic statements in this stunning and contemporary call to action.

From the press notes: “Art history is a derivation of history and we learn from history,” says Rosefeldt. “And in a time where neo-nationalist, racist and populist tendencies in politics and media threaten again democracies all over the world and challenge us to defend our allegedly achieved values of tolerance and respect, Manifesto becomes a clarion call for action.

There are a few scenes that though watchable, are difficult to make sense of. One best example is the one occurring right in the middle of the film where Blanchett plays a Russian diva choreographer. The segment begins with the tracking camera revealing several unconnected images including one with a man in a bear costume sitting on a bench with the head off. The camera then moves backstage and finally rests on the choreographer and assistant as she blurts out manifesto prose (while smoking a cigarette on a long cigarette holder, often flicking her ashes on her assistant’s clip board). The troupe she is choreographing perform magnificently, but she keeps screaming, in her Russian accent, words that often mean nothing in context.

Watching MANIFESTO is an art experience unless you enjoy sitting for days watching Cate Blanchett. Is this an intellectual experience? Maybe, if you have the patience to decipher what is happening on screen. But the film has been very well put together in all departments from sound to set design to writing and execution.

One has to pay careful attention and follow the logic and flow of the dialogue. Often too, after concentrating for a few minutes, listening to the poetry of words, the dialogue mean nothing – like the quips on dreams, children and worry. This is that rare film that one has to work to earn the pleasure, but it will be one definitely unforgotten.

Though made in 2015, the film originally premiered as a 13-channel film installation at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image. The 90-minute feature version premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017.


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