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Cate Blanchett Plays 13 Characters in ‘Manifesto’ Because She’s Frustrated That Film Has Become Far Too Literal

“I couldn't be less interested in my own life and my own experience and telling the world what I think,” the actress said.

Cate Blanchett in MANIFESTO. Photo by Julian Rosefeldt.

Cate Blanchett in “Manifesto”

Julian Rosefeldt

Rosefeldt elaborated: “For me, day one was very nervous because it could be we don’t get along or something. It turned out to be wonderful, and from day two we just had fun, even though it was very tiring. It was a beautiful trip, in a way like a road movie or a holiday, where every day you encounter a different world.”

“It wasn’t a holiday, believe me,” Blanchett insisted, thinking back on a Berlin shoot so hectic that she once had to play two characters — the homeless man and the news anchor — on the same day. “It was many, many things, but a holiday it was not. I’ve seen photos of your holidays,” she said to Rosenfeldt with a smile, “and this wasn’t one of them.”

Their work may have been hard, but it was rewarded with a uniquely fruitful collaboration, one that somehow only grew more interesting as it continued to assume new shapes. It wasn’t always certain that things were going to turn out that way. Rosefeldt, who first conceived the theatrical version of “Manifesto’ in order to help finance the installation, remembered how nervous he was to tell Blanchett of his plan, and Blanchett confirmed that her director had good reason doubt. “I was a little skeptical of what the piece would even mean in this linear context,” she said. “But I think something else has been found.”

The installation version of “Manifesto” is undeniably a more visceral experience, but this new version offers its own unique rewards. While the former created an incredible sense of scale and polyphony, surrounding viewers with Blanchetts that would sync into a high-pitched choir of indistinct voices every 11 minutes, the latter better exploits Blanchett’s celebrity. The very thing that she and Rosefeldt were nervous about has now become their project’s ace in the hole.

In a piece that hinges on divorcing things from their context, reconfiguring “Manifesto” for Blanchett’s usual medium only calls greater attention to the tension between words and images. In this format, watching the actress dress like a punk and spout Manuel Maples Arce’s “A Strident Prescription” immediately calls to mind Blanchett’s perfect mimicry of Bob Dylan in “I’m Not There,” or Mary Maples in “Truth.” Are all of her performances manifestos? Does the fact that we never forget that we’re watching Cate Blanchett make it easier to be taken by these manifestos, or does it make it easier to discredit them?

READ MORE: ‘Manifesto’ First Look: Cate Blanchett Channels Lars Von Trier and Jim Jarmusch In Sundance Premiere

Both invisible and indivisible at the same time, Blanchett becomes the medium, and not the message. Rosefeldt has referred to her as “an artist-scientist, deeply researching the human condition,” and it’s clear that the actress likes that description. “I couldn’t be less interested in my own life and my own experience and telling the world what I think,” she said when I suggested that “Manifesto” and its call for critical thinking might be particularly compelling at a time when people are so quick to conflate depiction with endorsement.

“Film has increasingly become a very literal medium,” she continued. “I’m always asked at what points I, the actor, connect personally with the material. It’s like people feel you can only give a truly, deeply, resonant performance that costs you something if you’re recalling the death of your dog. No! The point of difference, the empathetic connection to somebody else’s circumstances that are outside my own experience, that’s what drives me. It should always be a provocation, and trying to establish empathetic inroads between yourself, the work, and the audience, because that’s who it’s for.”

Rosefeldt nodded along beside her. “It was all about creating a mental space, a tension between what you see on screen and the audience,” he said. “The audience should always be included, and not just as a receptionist to the story. You have to create participation by triggering the senses — I can feel goosebumps when I listen to some of the words in ‘Manifesto,’ and I know them all by heart.”

In a world of arguing that Ryan Gosling saved jazz and accusing Martin Scorsese of supporting Jordan Belfort, “Manifesto” argues that the relationship between the art and the artist isn’t nearly so important as the relationship between the art and ourselves. That cinema’s greatest value can’t necessarily be found by reflecting our own worldview, but also by broadening it. “Manifesto,” I concluded as I said goodbye to Blanchett and Rosefeldt, is a movie, it just doesn’t allow us to watch it like one.

Check out an exclusive clip from “Manifesto” below.

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