Lars von Trier's inflammatory follow-up to Dogville is another theatrical production, shot on a bare soundstage with just a few props, and with lines painted on the floor to denote the walls of the buildings. Once again, the heroine is Grace, last seen driving away with her gangster father and his private army. But in Manderlay, Bryce Dallas Howard has taken over the lead role from Nicole Kidman, presumably because she was busy with something more worthwhile, such as Bewitched or The Stepford Wives.
As the film begins, the gangsters' convoy stops off at an Alabama plantation where slavery is still in place, 70 years after it was banned. Grace demands that her father's men free the slaves by any means necessary. Her father (Willem Defoe) sneers that the workers won't be able to handle their emancipation, so Grace elects to stay behind, along with a lawyer and a quartet of tommy-gun toting enforcers, to ease the transition from tyranny to democracy. It doesn't go well.
Von Trier's caustic commentary on race relations and foreign policy doesn't have Dogville's novelty value, and, edited down to almost an hour shorter than that film, it doesn't have its cumulative power, either: for once, I wished a two-hour film were longer. But it's still indubitablythe work of one of cinema's most provocative, literary and devilishly cunning storytellers.