April 28, 2008
Review - " Manderlay " (on DVD) - By Roland Hansen
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Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Written by: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Bryce Dallas Howard, Danny Glover,
Isaach De Bankole
This is the strange story of the Manderlay plantation.
Manderlay lay on a lonely plain somewhere in the deep
south of the USA. It was in the year of 1933 that Grace and
her father had left the township of Dogville behind them.
Grace's father and his army of villains had spent the entire
winter seeking out new hunting grounds in vain, and now
they were heading south in one last attempt to find a
favourable location in which to take up residence. By
chance their cars stop in the state of Alabama in front of a large iron gate bearing a thick chain and a padlock. Beside the
gate, a dead oak tree towers over a heavy boulder with Manderlay hewn in monumental letters into the granite. Just as
Grace, her father and his men are about to leave after a short break and a quick lunch, a young black woman runs up to the
car. She knocks on Grace's window. She hammers at the glass in despair. Ignoring her father's advice to leave others to
their own affairs, Grace follows the girl through the gates of Manderlay and there, she finds a group of people living as if
slavery had not been abolished seventy years earlier, with white masters and black slaves. Grace believes that she has a
duty to make it up to the slaves for injustices they have suffered at the hands of her kind: 'we brought them here, we abused
them and made them what they are', as she argues to her father; and she decides that having liberated Manderlay, she will
remain at the plantation until she has seen them through their first harvest. Her father grudgingly leaves her with four
henchmen and a lawyer, warning Grace that he won't be there to pick up the pieces when her plans for the resurrection of
Manderlay fall apart.
Manderlay is filmed in a unique and fascinating fashion. The entire movie takes place on an almost naked stage, with
outlines of buildings drawn on the floor resembling a large map. This production is presented very much like a stage play
with minimal sets and props. This minimalist setting allows us to focus on the actor’s performances.
Bryce Dallas Howard delivers a great performance as Grace the slaves would be saviour. Willem DeFoe is delightful as
Grace’s cynical gangster father.
You won’t have to walk out of Manderlay (although you may find you want to). Bryce Dallas Howard gives us a rather
powerful sex scene which is somewhere between seduction and rape. You can’t quite tell if she’s screaming in ecstasy or
Manderlay shines a very harsh light on America’s past and
it’s treatment of peoples that the ruling class saw as less
than human. Although completely engrossing and utterly
fascinating, this film is very disturbing. It seems to suggest
that slaves were better off as slaves and would prefer their
captivity. How do you make people value their freedom and
be responsible for their own future, when it is so much
more comfortable to blame someone else for their fate?
The ending credits are sure to give you nightmares as the
scenes depicted are real and not staged for the movie.
People of sensitive disposition should shut off the DVD
after the movie and not watch through to the end of the