... Rent it. Manderlay is a foreign director's take on American slavery in the South. Conceived by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier the film is a sequel to von Trier's Dogville (which stars Nicole Kidman as Grace), and is part of his USA: Land of Opportunities trilogy. It continues the tale of Grace (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard), who is traveling through the south with her gangster father (Willem Defoe) and his merry band of fellow thugs during the early 1930s, after having fled Dogville. En route to whereverville they stop outside a plantation (Manderlay), in bumf*ck Alabama to take a breather, when a black woman in full "slave regalia" taps on the car window and implores them for help, because a fellow slave is about to be whipped for stealing. Grace inquires within and discovers that slavery (quarters and all) is still alive and well, 70 years AFTER its abolishment. After a confrontation with the plantation's ruthless mistress Mam (played by Lauren Bacall), who's hemmed up on her death bed and who eventually dies, Grace decides to stay (along with a few of her father's best thugs, including a lawyer) to teach Manderlay's ignorant breed the fundamentals of freedom and how to be civilized and self sufficient... much to her father's chagrin. Dad bids grace farewell and burns rubber, leaving Grace to her own devices, but not before discouraging her from ever trying to locate his whereabouts. Grace is also made privy to a notebook called "Mam's Law." Its contents is basically a meticulously documented and comprehensive code of conduct for all the slaves, and what Mam has used to gain psychological power over them all. Each Manderlay inhabitant is divided up as follows:
  • Group 1: Proudy Nigger
  • Group 2: Talkin' Nigger
  • Group 3: Weepin' Nigger
  • Group 4: Hittin' Nigger
  • Group 5: Clownin' Nigger
  • Group 6: Loser Nigger
  • Group 7: Pleasing Nigger (also known as a chameleon, a person of the kind who can transform himself into exactly the type beholder would like to see)

Essentially, after Mam's death, Grace designate herself as bearer of great news and alerts Manderlay's slaves to the fact that slavery was abolished some time ago and that she will stay on to make sure they transition accordingly and sans minimal incident. They are however, mortified at the prospect of living "another way of life" for Manderlay and the comforts its strict system are all they're familiar with. Needless to say, without relaying too many details, Grace assumes her position, punishes Manderlay's white overseers via role reversal- (she makes them serve Manderlay's slaves dinner, in Black Face in one scene)- and eventually discovers that the inhabitants of Manderlay are indeed clever and aren't as ignorant as she initially thought and that it is she, in all her idealistic and liberal, forward thinking, and at times pretentious grandeur, who is ignorant.
The film is interesting in its approach. It tells the tale of Manderlay in 8 chapters. The Film's aesthetic and discourse unfolds just like a live stage play. It may not appeal to particular film tastes because of this... but it's worth a look-see anyway. It also stars Isaach de Bankole (one of my favorite actors) and Danny Glover (as the "talking nigger").
I, of course, am always mildly amused by how Europeans view race relations in the United States. While racism isn't as cut and dried or overt there, as it is in America, it does exist despite rumblings to the contrary. At times, it's an even more complex and multilayered system, because there was never nor is there currently a Civil Rights Movement or minority leaders who are as vocal as some of ours are and were (Farrakhan, Malcolm, M.L. King, Panthers, Davis, umm Jackson, err, Sharpton?). There aren't any organizations that really champion that particular cause in Europe, or at least none that I'm aware of. Unfortunately many countries refuse to acknowledge the role racism plays in their country, but there have been noble attempts to bring immigration and the history of slavery to the forefront and half-assed, reluctant ones, because particular countries refuse to acknowledge the reality of growing multiculturalism and bigotry in their sphere. They'd prefer their immigrants to become naturalized only if the shuck their ethnic pride out the window **cough-cough France**
Xenophobia runs just as deep if not more, in Europe than it does here, in some instances. Especially in countries like Germany (see the film Otomo, also starring Isaach de Bankole). I'm a fan of much of von Trier's work, but I suspect that his approach was a little pretentious and self-aggrandizing. His attempt to describe the system of slavery in the U.S. was underwhelming and fell short of whatever his intention may well have been. It also shows just how little the world knows about the history of slavery, in the United States and especially in the deep south particularly if you've never stepped foot there. Manderlay still deviates from the norm, is darkly comedic, seemingly anti-American/anti-U.S.'s foreign policy, and will definitely prompt discussion if not annoyance. For those reasons alone, it's worth renting and watching. I'd go ahead and rent Dogville too...


Anonymous said...

Lars is cool and all, but Dogville was hella annoooooooooooying!!! I did watch the whole thing, however, and I must admit it was interesting and thought-provoking. That's what makes me even angrier! He's so good and getting you to watch even when you want to roll your eyes and walk away...I'll have to check this one out!

Brunhilda said...

This one sounds very interesting. I'll have to check it out.

pricolatino said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and Happy Kwanzaa and Happy Hanukah and Happy Festivus and Happy Three Kings Day and Happy Epiphany! *phew* I think I got everything covered there. I was away for a bit on vacation in PR, so I missed your well wishes on facebook.

Regarding the movie, I tend to shy away from movies about certain topics, or certain movies that involve a lot of thinking, or certain movies that veer towards depressing themes. Not to say I don't watch them, heck, some of my favorite movies are "downers" or "thinkers". But sometimes unconsciously and other times consciously, I avoid them.

I didn't watch Dogville, what I saw in the preview didn't really catch me. I haven't seen or heard anything about Manderlay, but I do like Bryce and Danny Glover. Who knows, maybe I'll catch them up some weekend on OnDemand, when I'm not doing anything. If I do, I'll make sure to give you my impressions.

Hope the job hunt is going well. Much love, Abe.

Another Conflict Theorist said...

Peace Sis,

Aaaaah...the "Nigger" types. Gotta love 'em. I'm especially fond of Pleasing Nigger when he or she completely marginalizes his or her own life in favor of Massa's, e.g. The Green Mile. "Nah, Massa. I don't want to inconvenience you by asserting my right to not be executed for a crime I didn't commit. Ya'll go'n head and kill me."

At any rate, Top Notch Post. Thanks for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Finland for awhile. I almost never saw anyone with any shade of brown skin there. A few times I did see an African or African American riding one of the ubiquitous trains people use to go home to Helsinki's suburbs. Both times one of the random ticket checkers showed up to check just the one ticket. They watched a lot of American cop shows over there, so maybe they imported some racism that way. Of course, people were hard on the darker-skinned gypsies in Helsinki, too, so maybe some of it was homegrown. But they also had big parties at the university in Helsinki the week things began to really shift in South Africa and Mr. Nelson Mandela was released. Race relations in Finland were not simple.