Manifesto joyfully makes fun of imitation art and a world consumed by synthetic media. This underscores the film’s exasperated plea for artists to “be authentic”. Director Julian Rosefeldt has carefully selected thirteen manifestos that endeavor to help artists to see the errors of their ways as they churn out fake art year after year. Cate Blanchett masterfully plays thirteen distinct characters, each embodying and delivering a single manifesto through monologues. The bite of the sometimes arrogant, sometimes pompous manifestos is tempered by subtle humor. The film can’t help but also make fun of itself as it synthetically constructs productions of synthetic realities. The irony of this oxymoron is not lost, and it serves to underline the basis for the film.
This film is brilliant in its cinematography, acting, and directing, but beyond this, the film effectively engages the brave soul who is willing to abort expectations of a typical narrative plot. There is no such plot in Manifesto as the audience is pulled through setting after setting, listening to manifesto after manifesto. However, as soon as the audience aborts the attempt to find a through-line, a film arc appears due to the intercutting of some of the manifestos. The effect is not to produce a seamless storyline, but rather to heighten the punch of the declarations that our world is fake. An art film about art effectively holds up the mirror to today’s modern society. From the dramatization within the media to the lingering stale mentalities regarding a nuclear family, we are increasingly moving towards an unsustainable reality. That art is merely reproducing what it sees is a source of frustration for the filmmaker.
The filmmaker seems to assert that art’s job is to move beyond being a reflection of society (a feat the film does not itself achieve, ironically). Rather, the film's call for artists to be authentic is really a call to intentionally subvert present-day reality by presenting what is authentic. This begs the question of what constitutes “authentic”, a question the film only briefly explores. If audiences can approach the film without expecting a normal narrative structure, they will discover delightful and subtle humor, masterful acting, gripping cinematography, and a refreshing look at today's sensationalized and artificially constructed society.