Manderlay

Film
GRACE UNDER PRESSURE Howard, left, offers the unimpressed Bankol a helping hand.
GRACE UNDER PRESSURE Howard, left, offers the unimpressed Bankol a helping hand.

Time Out says

Less a sequel to Dogville than a recalcitrant reprise, the second chapter of Lars von Trier's USA trilogy trades in the former's curdled Amerikana for a fermented Mason-Dixon hospitality. This discordant song of the South, however, remains the same as the first: Characters still strut and fret on a mostly bare stage, narrator John Hurt continues to offer a running commentary and even David Bowie's "Young Americans" returns for an ironic credit-sequence encore. Only the female lead —and the sense that Von Trier actually has something coherent to say—has changed.

The odd thing is that the director's acidic anti-Uncle Tom's Cabin, set in the 1930s, seems like ripe fodder for attacking history's legacy of hypocrisy. The do-goodnik Grace (Howard, amiably filling in for Nicole Kidman) stumbles across a plantation where, mysteriously, African-Americans are still employed as slaves. Grace declares them all free; expecting to be greeted as a liberator, she instead finds that democracy sans authority means nothing to them. Our heroine stays to help them and, naturally, her best intentions bring out the worst in everyone.

Unfortunately, the Swiftian satirist who eviscerated Norman Rockwell's quaint vision is nowhere to be found; instead, we get a pedagogue who delights in pushing buttons at the expense of everything else. Any points on race and oppression embedded in Von Trier's slack fable of the reconstruction ultimately play second fiddle to his eagerness to play the enfant terrible. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.) —David Fear

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