Danish filmmaker Lars von rier (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark) rubs a lot of people he wrong way, including his audiences and his actors. Nicole Kidman, who starred in von Trier’s controversial Dogville in 2003, chose not to return for Manderlay — the second film in his planned trilogy. For on Trier, who fears flying and has never visited the U.S., the opportunity afforded by the trilogy is to reveal the flaws in American democracy. Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard’s daughter — she starred in The Village — steps in for Kidman as Grace, the gangster’s daughter who teaches moral lessons in the George Bush manner: If you don’t listen, she retaliates with violence. Like Dogville, Manderlay is set in Depression-era America, which von Trier filmed on a Copenhagen soundstage, bare except for lines drawn on the floor and a few props.
Grace has left Colorado for Alabama, where she finds a plantation, Manderlay, run by Mam (Lauren Bacall)’s if slavery had never been outlawed. Grace sets out to restore freedom, despite warnings from house slave Wilhelm (Danny Glover) to go easy on her reforms. Now it’s the whites (in blackface, yet) serving the slaves, who control the production and sale of cotton. It’s tough going, especially when dust storm hits, starvation threatens and Grace’s dad (Willem Dafoe, in he role created by James Caan) returns with new options. Howard struggles with the role Kidman nailed. And the graphic nude scene in which “proudy lave” Timothy (Isaach De Bankole) puts a towel over Grace’s head before lavishing her pale body is as rugged on the audience as it is on the actors. on Trier’s hand isn’t as sure in Manderlay as it was in Dogville. His film exasperates and illuminates in equal measure. But o film addict will want to miss his cinematic brilliance.