Sunday, May 20, 2007

The theatrical USA of von Trier

Manderlay (2005, Director Lars von Trier): Rating 7/10

This is the second installement of von Trier's USA Trilogy after 2003's Dogville. The same production style as Dogville is employed in that a theatrical set is used with chalk lines marking out different areas in an open set with no doors. Only this time around a minor special effect is used to mimic a sandstorm. While Dogville was an interesting 3 hour character study about how humans react to a stranger, Manderlay seems to be a forced effort. At a running time of 140 minutes, it is shorter than Dogville but feels twice as long.

The story continues off just after Dogville ended. Grace is en route through America after she has gotten the mob to kill all of Dogville's inhabitants. While she and her father are driving in Southern USA, she notices the use of slavery in the town of Manderlay. She is shocked to see such a situation because slavery was supposed to have been ended 60 years ago. Grace decides to stay in the town against her father's wishes because she believes she can make a difference and can lead the slaves to freedom. Just like in Dogville she goes through an adjusting phase but eventually earns the respect of the town folk. However, her trust is abused and she is taken advantage of sexually. She is angered and can't wait for her father to return so that she can destroy everyone in Manderlay. But unlike the first time around, she is on her own.

My biggest criticism of Dogville was the ending. I felt it was too easy for Grace to take her revenge by getting the mob to destroy the town. But after seeing Manderlay I understand von Trier's purpose in showing that. He wanted to show how there are some people who are keen to resort to violence to solve their problems rather than taking a different approach. This time around, Grace wants to destroy another town. However, a brief show of force convinces her father that Grace is capable to be left on her own. But that show of force was just a minor act of agression on her part. In the end, Grace is forced to flee the town running across the nation.

The final film in the trilogy is called Washington which might feature Grace ending up in the American capital and might be a fitting political end to a series that has featured topics of immigration (stranger coming to town) & slavery.

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