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MANDERLAY

Director: LARS VON TRIER

DENMARK • 2005 • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 139 MIN.


IN THIS FOLLOW-ON FROM THE MUCH-DEBATED DOGVILLE, LARS VON TRIER DEPOSITS HIS 1930’S GANGSTER (WILLEM DAFOE IN JAMES CAAN’S SHOES) AND KIND-HEARTED DAUGHTER (NEWCOMER BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD REPLACING NICOLE KIDMAN) OUTSIDE THE GATES OF AN ALABAMA PLANTATION WHERE SLAVERY IS STILL IN OPERATION SOME SEVEN DECADES AFTER ABOLITION.
Unlike her dad, Howard can’t idly stand by, and since the passing of the elderly white owner (Lauren Bacall) presents an opportunity to intervene, she soon sets about restoring rights and liberty, whether the oppressed are ready for it or not. Good intentions alone won’t grow the cotton crops however, and survival is to prove a challenge to those for so long disenfranchised from the decision-making process. At first, the device of situating the action on a bare soundstage with minimal props might seem like a mere re-run of Dogville, but second time around it’s easier to acclimatise to this Brechtian device and consider the setup a forum for thinking the unthinkable. What if the freed men and women were actually better off as slaves, for instance? With Danny Glover’s old retainer adding gravitas as the keeper of the plantation owner’s manual, the drama unfolds as a series of provocations, including inter-racial sexual friction between goody-goody Howard and smouldering schemer Isaach de Bankole. It’s outrageous, infuriating, bitterly funny, compassionate yet hardly politically correct, and all constructed around the understanding that our liberal values are meaningless unless we subject them to stringent examination from time to time. Did somebody mention Iraq? —Trevor Johnston.

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