Manifesto a documentary that never transcends simple documentation. By Andrew Prosser.
First off, some demographic information: Hello, my name is Andrew, and I am an American. It’s not something I chose, it’s just who I am. As such, my perspective on writer-director Daniel Draper’s chronicling of the Labour party’s efforts to secure political office within the UK is admittedly an uneducated one.
Having what it would be generous to call a cursory knowledge of the battle being fought and its participants, I cannot speak to Draper’s handling of any one or two political figures, whether he paints a fair picture of the individuals seeking to wrest power from the seemingly-villainous Tories. What does still resonate, however, in my “radical” Leftist Yankee heart, are the not-infrequent readings from the titular manifesto itself. It is thrilling for its novelty, at least from this side of the pond, to hear Socialist virtues extolled with sincerity and without self-consciousness, to be not afraid of the “S-word.”
It’s an effective device, to hear in voiceover ideals so seemingly a part of basic humanity it feels absurd anyone would need to be convinced of their value over top of the film’s action – fresh-faced campaign volunteers with more patience than I trying to do just that, gently nudging obstinate Conservatives in small-town parking lots to consider not only the lack of compassion that characterizes their views, but the failures of logic (if you have so many complaints about how things have been lately, and if the Tories have been in power for ten years, then why in the world would you keep voting for them?).
Unfortunately for Manifesto’s value as a film, not only are these inconsequential arguments the height of the film’s action, this simple pairing of audiobook voiceover with these scenes appears to be the only piece of filmmaking flare up Draper’s sleeve. Almost certainly a bigger issue than the lack of style is the piece’s lack of substance – a great documentary, yes, sheds light on an issue, a concept, a movent in the real world, but it must also fulfill the basic duties of any kind of film, that is, mainly to tell a story. To give us a hero to root for as they rush headfirst toward their goal.
On the surface, one could argue Manifesto achieves this. We do have politicians and their supporters attempting to win office through elections. But the detached way Draper handles his subjects makes it impossible to feel for them, to translate their victories and defeats into our own. Worse still, the goal posts keep moving.
There is no one goal centered somewhere over the horizon our heroes strive ever-toward. Instead, the film dryly documents the results of an election, only to immediately shift its attention to the next, creating a pace that is the definition of inconsistent – at a clip too fast to be comprehensible in some spots and mind-numbingly deliberate in others.
If one were looking for a dry recitation of the results of several elections throughout the past few years, Manifesto achieves that, but for anyone expecting their documentaries to bear even a passing resemblance to a watchable movie, this one doesn’t deliver.
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