Friday, September 09, 2005

Manderlay: Making Fun of Black and White

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Last Friday, I was able to catch the last day of screening of the Danish film Manderlay in the Cinemanila Film Festival, the second installment of the Lars Von Trier’s trilogy which covers the same theme; USA: The Land of Opportunity, but actually, the theme is a mockery…

Again, the film was made the same way as Dogville but without Nicole Kidman. That is why the first part is still better, by having a better performance by the cast and more impressive manipulation of the camera. After watching for almost two hours, I can say that this film is perhaps the most provoking, intriguing, controversial masterpieces ever made. It talks about the black slavery in the little town of Manderlay, but at the same time, it sparks a commentary about the US campaign of democracy in Iraq which is very cynical.

The story began when Grace arrived in Manderlay (1933) and she saw that slavery is still being implemented in the town even though it was already abolished for more than five decades. Then our self-proclaimed hero insisted to stay in the town and set the blacks free, so her gangster father gave Grace some of his armed men to stay with her. Grace said to the people of Manderlay that these armed men are just for maintaining peace if something bad happens in the quiet little town (see what I mean about the US Arm forces). On her days in Manderlay, she taught the black people on how to practice democracy. They had a series of meetings regarding the ownership of the lands and the properties but it seems that these people are not interested for this change. It is very evident here that Trier is trying to tease America for their mission on Iraq and pointing out that how can you teach democracy to someone who does not even know what democracy is.

In the end, she discovered that Wilhelm, the leader of the slaves is the one who devised the method of psychological division of the black people in Manderlay based on their behaviors. They are divided by their masters according to this scheme and accepted the system because the minority knew that they will not be honored by the white people of America and they cannot fully enjoy the freedom of free-enterprise world so they decided to become slaves for the rest of their lifetime. As we can see, Trier hits on both black and white. He insisted that the white people has the power to set free the minority from slavery, but in the bottomline, still very apparent from today, the blacks are technically free but the concept and perception of slavery has just transformed. The blacks on the other hand were referred in the film as lazy individuals who withdrew themselves from enjoying freedom for not escaping from the hands of their masters.

It is very clear that Grace is the picture of the modern America, she imagines herself as the hero, as the savior who can provide anything to the hungry world, and perhaps she is drowned by her own vanity. She always presents herself as a gift to others; America invades other cultures without even knowing what kind of people they are dealing with. It is always Idealism vs. Pragmatism. Grace represents an idealist mind who wants to make a change by her own way without even realizing other external circumstances and the Blacks represent pragmatic minds for practically giving up to the system.

Manderlay is one of the most intelligent films I’ve ever seen in years, despite of knowing the fact that it is very offensive to the American people, it is a true gem in the history of cinema, and certainly this is perhaps the best and most creative movie of the year. (A)