Marnderlay is part two of the trilogy that began with Dogville. Picking up where that film left off, we see Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard replacing Nicole Kidman) and her gangster father (Willem Dafoe taking over from James Caan) arriving at Manderlay, a plantation where slavery never ended. Grace, horrified by this state of affairs, orders slavery abolished, but her attempts to bring freedom to the slaves lead inexorably to disaster.
While one does, at first, miss the l…minous presence Kidman brought to the role, the change in cast is finally for the best, as the character of Grace seems to have been reset, becoming naive and idealistic again, rather than the cold-eyed fury she was at the end of Dogville. Von Trier’s elimination of sets (as before, we have a dark soundstage, chalk outlines, and a few props) is still very effective, and the film raises some very, very difficult questions about American society. Not all of these questions necessarily work together, however. This is obviously an allegory, but can it be an allegory about Bush’s misadventure in Iraq and the African-American experience at the same time?
The sound design, like the set design, is quite spare, but it the audio is effectively deployed here. There are some nice, carefully chosen surround effects (such as the twittering of birds). The dialogue, furthermore, is absolutely crystalline in its clarity. The volume level, however, is rather low, and needs to be pumped up.
There is so much darkness on display here, and it all looks good. The blacks are deep and never grainy, and the picture is never murky, which, given how dim the lighting is, could have been a real problem. The colours are very strong, though the flesh tones aren’t always perfectly consistent. Still, a pretty handsome transfer overall.
It’s another long (139 minutes) polemic from Von Trier, guaranteed to start arguments. Enjoy.