Sunday, April 16, 2006

[SIFF'06] Manderlay

Manderlay is the second of a trilogy series called "USA - Land of Opportunities" by director Lars von Trier. If you're already familiar with Dogville, then the techniques used in the sequel Manderlay will not surprise you. It's similar, using bare sets, chalk markings on the floor to denote rooms, imaginary doors with sound effects, and the jarring camera cuts, with a narration provided by John Hurt, and intertitles as the prelude to the various chapters (we have 8 here).

To me, the movie hit at two different levels. The more obvious one being the story of slavery in the US plantation town of Manderlay. Grace discovers Manderlay being oblivious to the abolishment of slavery, and proceeds to free the slaves with the assistance of her father's hired guns. In one swoop, she introduced massive changes to the way of life of the slaves and their former masters, with or without their consensus to change the status quo.

We examine racism, the usual perceptions and misconceptions of negros, and how perceived segregation and classification are used as control, like stereotyping them into categories of pride, chatty, and those who simply cannot be trusted.

On the other level, one which I found to be more interesting, is the supposedly allegation about the US policy on Iraq. Grace is the screen Bush, who overcomes the dictator of Manderlay with the use of heavy firepower, and frees the population probably against their wishes. Sweeping changes are made, like the introduction of democracy and its tools like ballots, votes and referendums, without the deeper study if the people are ready for such a change. But like it or not, change is imposed on them.

With the use of weapons as a medium of change, Grace is stuck with the responsiblity of ensuring that Manderlay thrives given the disposition of its dictator, and the question of what will happen when the threat of the gun is removed, and your guard let down. There's a little romance / lust and nudity included which warranted its R21 rating here, though it's nothing erotic about it.

The most notable change in the sequel is the absence of Nicole Kidman, who played protagonist Grace Margaret Mulligan in Dogville. Scheduling conflicts prevented her from reprising her role, and it went to ingenue Bryce Dallas Howard, who in my opinion, stepped into the Grace role comfortably. Not to mention too is that Bryce is simply absolutely stunning with her red hair and chic haircut, and at certain angles, do resemble a younger version of Kidman.

Its ending with David Bowie's song Young Americans, with plenty of pictures of the KKK accompanying it, served as a grim reminder of how racism can rear its ugly head. Now I've got to find time and watch my Doville double DVDs (which includes the Dogville Confessions), though Manderlay can stand on its own without the need for any prior knowledge of what transpired in Dogville in order to appreciate it.

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