I had the opportunity to sit in on a pre-release screening of Lars von Trier’s latest offering, Manderlay. I was pretty hesitant, actually. If you’ve seen Dogville, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve seen Dancer in the Dark, you know what I’m talking about. As the crowds filed in for a sold-out show I was chatting with Film/Video staffer, Joe Beres, and I confessed that I accept Lars von Trier as an undeniably great filmmaker, but at the same time I don’t know why I keep lining up for the emotional beatings he dishes out. I can’t seem to help myself.
Manderlay follows the continuing story of Grace (from Dogville), as she comes upon the plantation of Manderlay where slavery continues decades after the Civil War ended. In a move that Grace believes to be generous and humane, she tries to bring democracy to the former slaves. And then things just get stickier from there. I was just thankful that I made it to the end of the film without the sobbing I had succumb to during Dogville. Yeah, it really has its horrific moments.
And what do I walk away from this film with? A European view of American slavery? A feeling of guilt at the way America ‘brings democracy’ to the rest of the world? A new look at the modern incarnations of slavery in the world? Undoubtedly, Manderlay is going to generate a lot of talk and I won’t give away all it’s secrets here. I don’t feel qualified to lead a conversation about the themes in this film, so I think I will instead listen in on what the people are saying.