In Julian Rosefeldt’s film, actress Cate Blanchett costumes herself as various characters — a schoolteacher, a homeless man, a television anchor — and in various settings, delivers a series of monologues — all taken verbatim from well-known manifestos. If that sounds arty, it is: Originally, these monologues were part of a video installation at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image, in which all 13 ran simultaneously on 13 different screens.
How much you’ll enjoy the linear form depends on your capacity to simply enjoy the film’s strengths, absent any larger plot or guidelines. Blanchett is remarkable, and always a delight to watch. The work is handsomely produced, and some of the monologues are well served by their incongruent settings (a funeral, a suburban dining room, post-industrial landscapes). And if you’re the sort that appreciates a good manifesto about art (as most of these are), this is like a Top 10 set.
But the manifestos are not identified on screen, so it can be a bit of a scramble to even know what is being talked about, and in what context. You’d have to be a pretty well-read intellectual to recognize all of these texts. (For the record, I knew one [Marx on capitalism] and correctly guessed another [Dogme film].) The lack of identification is an aesthetic choice (perhaps even supported by one of the manifestos …), but without larger context, viewers may be left with: What is this person talking about? But if you’re onboard, this is a provocative intellectual exercise.