07 April 2006
  manderlay (!)

so here is a brief narrative of the past year of my life:

--may 16-- lars von trier's new film manderlay, the sequel to his incomparable dogville, has its debut at cannes and i anxiously await seeing it in what i hope will be a month or two.

--june 3-- the film is released in von trier's home turf, denmark. quickly following that it is released in russia, the rest of eastern europe and scandinavia.

--november 10-- film released in germany, already released in france and most of the rest of europe. i finally give up on it ever being release in the u.s. await dvd.

--january 27-- hurrah! in a surprise twist of fate, manderlay hits u.s. theaters (one of the last countries in which it is released).

--january, february, march-- the film sees theaters in a couple cities in the u.s. but doesn't come to phoenix or tucson. luke is sad. apparently von trier's reputation precedes him.

--march 16-- out of the blue, manderlay finally shows in tucson, luke and john finally get to see it and the prophecy is fulfilled:)

anyways, manderlay is definitely the movie i have been most looking forward to seeing over the past year. i have seen everything lars von trier has ever done (at least everything that you can get in the u.s.) he is effing amazing. i especially love dogville, but also dancer in the dark and breaking the waves. his most famous theme?: what is wrong with people in the u.s. that is why he is so unpopular in the states, but it is also why he is so amazing. someone who has never lived in the u.s. captures the "american" spirit in a way that no other filmmaker has ever been able to do.

in manderlay, grace stumbles upon a town in 1930s alabama where the residents apparently never experienced the civil war and continue to practice slavery. she instantly deposes the white plantation family and proceeds to instruct the now former slaves on how to live as free beings. at the center of the film is a text called "mam's log" that describes each of the black people on the plantation according to a personality diagram (e.g. clownin' n*****, pleasin' n*****, etc.) in the end, in a typical von trier-esque twist of fate, this personality types come back to haunt grace when she finds out that these aren't necessarily the constructs the blacks are thrust into, but rather those they strive to achieve.

yes it is complicated and yes it is controversial, but it wouldn't be as perfect if it weren't. i can't tell you too much about the plot, because not only would it give away what happens in manderlay, but what happens in dogville too. if you want to see the former i think your time has run out, so you will have to wait for the eventual video release, but you can and should go get the latter. you will be stunned by it. i am sure.

dogville and manderlay are the first two parts of von trier's usa: land of opportunities trilogy. (the third part is the possible eventual wasington). the most conspicuously interesting feature of these movies is that they are filmed on an empty soundstage. that is, there is no scenery at all, just blackness and chalk outlines where certain set features should be like walls, doors, trees and dogs. the absence of scenery makes it that much more amazing that you can sit riveted to a two and a half hour long movie that is composed solely of dialogue.

another amazing thing about this movie is bryce dallas howard as grace. nicole kidman played grace in dogville, and i won't argue that howard even comes close to matching her, but she surprised me as being eminently sufficient. in fact i really didn't miss kidman at all. howard (incidentally ron howard's daughter) is beautiful and interesting and i can't wait to see her in more things.

granted you will leave both of these films feeling decidedly unpatriotic, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing. i think that lack of available real honest media portrayals of "americans" and "america" in the u.s. sort of necessitates that we look outside the states for unbiased views and information. i think that after you see manderlay, you will understand this country and its policies towards minorities (and maybe even gays) in a completely new light. i will be surprised and impressed if this isn't my favorite movie of 2006.
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