MM: Cate, you’ve always mixed it up. You’ve done big films, indie films, plays, experimental projects like this. How important is it to you to not get in a rut and to mix it up every time?
CB: It must be very important to me [laughs]. I get very restless and bored with myself every second of the day. The sound of my own voice, my physical limitations… and so it’s always the surprise that I’m always drawn toward. If you want to keep growing as an artist, as an actor, whatever you want to call yourself—or whatever you get called—you have to keep risking failure. You have to bite off more than you can chew, and this was certainly that.
But I’m also excited when you can speak to different types of audiences. The idea that the children get offered, through their education, an art experience and they might encounter this… they might never have heard of a manifesto before. That’s what public art galleries should be and why there’s got to be greater access to those places. Film festivals are so important because often films like this that defy definition can find an audience, albeit small.
But yes, to be in dialogue with someone like Julian is really exciting because your frame of reference is so interesting. And the questions that you [Rosefeldt] ask and your ability to see is so open. I also admire how clear your eye is, so I find that really inspiring to be around. So the process is as interesting as the outcome. You’re not necessarily outcome-focused, which sometimes you can feel in a film because everyone’s aware of the money they’re spending.
MM: The political landscape has changed considerable since you began this project in December 2014. How does it feel to see the manifestos and the current political situation seem so aligned?
JR: Very early when we started to write a concept to raise money for Manifesto, I often discussed the artist’s sense of the universe, the fact that they can foresee things and can feel something without being able to prove it yet. Some of these texts were not conceivable then as they are now—like the conceptual art piece, where she’s a news reader and a reporter and she says, “All current art is fake. All of art is fake.” The audience at Sundance was laughing. I was shocked when that laughter happened, because I thought it was… funny, but not that funny. Of course, everybody was thinking about Trump. It took me a second to realize that myself, so I was overrun by the actuality of the piece. I keep saying it is an anti-populist piece par excellence because it’s all about meaning and about sensibility and creativity and thinking, risking thoughts and inspiring everything that populism doesn’t have because it’s just about loudness and volume and noise and nothing in it.
MM: In the scene where you’re a suburban housewife with children, are those your kids? They have the most absolute, innocent look on their faces. Did they understand what was going on?
CB: Yes [they are my kids]. I know, they’re so sweet. I was on a family odyssey through Europe with my extended family and so they were in Berlin a couple of days before. Julian said, “Do you think Andrew [Upton, Blanchett’s husband] and the three boys would be up for being in the film?” I asked them—I thought it would be in a museum context—and they said fine. We did sort of try to quarantine from them [some of the text] but they were great. They were really good sports, and I probably couldn’t have done it any other way.
MM: Cate, was there one of the characters or manifestos that most resonated with you?
CB: One of the greatest, most provocative sentences in the entire thing for me is written by a female, [Mierle Laderman Ukeles]: “After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?” Which I think is a really provocative thought. But I really relished playing the news reader and the reporter. I love doubling; the whole thing is an act of doubling, I think. What resonated for me, what I found most compelling, was that these are assertions of artistic individuality, but yet there are so many points of connection between them, which I think given the political polemic at the moment is really interesting. What are the points of connection? It’s very easy to divide and destroy, but how do you actually connect? Artists are very good at connecting things. MM
Manifesto opens in theaters on May 10, 2017, courtesy of FilmRise. All images by Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst.