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With: Bryce Dallas Howard, Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, Lauren Bacall, Isaach de Bankolé, Jeremy Davies, Chloe Sevigny, Udo Kier, John Hurt (narrator)
Written by: Lars von Trier
Directed by: Lars von Trier
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 133
Date: 05/16/2005

Manderlay (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Worker Owned

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Manderlay on DVD

Manderlay, the sequel to Lars von Trier's Dogville, weighs in at about the same quality as its predecessor. It lacks the thrillingly nuts, outlandish quality of the original, but is also quite a bit more pointed and focused.

As with Dogville, Manderlay takes place on a darkened stage with white lines laid out on the floor to designate buildings and other key locations. We pick up not long after Dogville left off; Grace has rejoined her gangster father (Willem Dafoe, taking over for James Caan) and is currently traveling cross-country.

Bryce Dallas Howard has replaced Nicole Kidman as Grace, and although they couldn't be more different, Howard brings a new kind of vulnerability as well as an appealing, delicate power.

Grace, her father and a band of gangsters arrive at Manderlay, a Southern cotton plantation still operating with slaves -- led by Wilhelm (Danny Glover). Grace enters to find the old white matriarch (Lauren Bacall) on her deathbed. When she passes on, Grace vows to give the slaves their freedom, and to teach them self-reliance.

Von Trier presents a wide range of racial dualities, from Grace's attraction to a proud and strong man (Isaach de Bankolé) of supposed royal heritage, to teaching them about democracy. Once they learn how to vote on small issues, they begin voting on matters as weighty as life and death, as if mere mortals had command over such issues.

The writer/director has taken great care in constructing Manderlay, as each event leads specifically to the next, and each builds upon the one before it. He saves the shocking payoff until the end, and everything adds up to another condemnation of Americans and their attitudes toward race. But whereas Dogville expressed only a vague idea about mob mentality, Manderlay has a more specific target.

Like Dogville, Manderlay ends with David Bowie's "Young Americans" blaring over photographs of America's past, but this time the pictures show black poverty juxtaposed with evil, white supremacists. It's easier this time to distance oneself from von Trier's venom, but we shouldn't forget that even someone as intelligent and as sensitive as Grace has tried to do the right thing, and yet still makes the mistake of thinking in colors.

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