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Grace, her father and her father's armed men have left the devastation of Dogville behind them and drive south across the USA searching for greener pastures. Grace and her father have quickly resumed the hostilities that led her to run away into the mountains in the first place. She and her old man lock horns at every bend in the road ...

The cortege is stopped for a roadside picnic when Grace makes a gruesome discovery: the body of a black man is hanging from a tree near a stone marker identifying the property as "Manderlay". Her father insists that they leave local matters to the locals but when a desperate young woman begs the gangsters for help, Grace goes with her and the others have no choice but to follow.

Grace can hardly believe the scene appearing before her eyes in the yard at Manderlay. A young black man is tied between two fence posts, bound for a whipping by a white overseer as the other horrified labourers gather around. It's 1933, but Manderlay looks for all the world like an old-time plantation. It's workers are nothing but slaves, driven by an elderly mistress known as Mam who rules by the book. The book is called "Mam's Law" and it is both a code of conduct and a dehumanised chronicle purporting to detail the appearance and behaviour of generations of slaves at Manderlay. Grace's father's henchmen soon take control of the situation and relieve Mam of her shotgun while Grace removes the whip from the slavedriver's grasp.

Before long, Mam is dead of a stroke and having liberated the slaves, Grace and her party prepare to leave Manderlay. But an elderly ex-slave, Wilhelm, insists that Grace stay to receive their thanks and she quickly realises that she can't just leave these poor people to fend for themselves. Grace believes that she has a duty to make it up to the slaves for injustices they have suffered at the hands of her kind and she decides that she will remain at Manderlay until she has seen them through their first harvest. Her father grudgingly leaves her with four henchmen and a lawyer, warning Grace that he won't be there to pick up the pieces when her plans for the redemption of Manderlay fall apart.

The effort to win the trust of the former slaves is an arduous one for Grace but gradually, through patience and instruction, she makes herself understood. After a few setbacks, the crop is planted and the roofs of the dilapidated cabins are repaired. Reduced to the status of their former slaves, Mam's heirs are clearly not happy with the situation but among the black residents, only handsome Timothy, the slave Grace rescued from the foreman's whip, remains completely impervious to her improving enthusiasm. In her frustration, Grace succumbs to overwhelming erotic fantasies featuring this proud scion of African nobility.

But nature, too, has plans for Manderlay. The cotton crop is threatened by a dust storm and its residents are threatened by famine. The gangsters grow bored and the former slaves are slow to learn the lessons of democracy an an empty stomach. Determined not to give in and certain only of her moral obligation to improve and instruct, Grace feels control of Manderlay slipping from her grasp and turns to "Mam's Law", looking for answers ...

Director's Biography

Lars von Trier graduated from the National Film School of Denmark in 1983. In 1991, he and Peter Aalbæk Jensen set up Zentropa Entertainments, now one of the Scandinavian film production heavyweights.
Von Trier's work is wide ranging, from avant-garde to re-interpretations of classic genres. His early works were stylistically innovative explorations of themes and symbols which were to play a central part in his later films. Lars von Trier was the moving spirit behind the recent success of the Danish film industry, and he has influenced a new generation of directors in Denmark and around the world, especially through his key role in Dogme 95.

Lars von Trier established his name at home and abroad with the E-trilogy. The E-trilogy illuminates futuristic European traumas and is characterized by its personal, experimental way of filmmaking. The Trilogy consists of THE ELEMENT OF CRIME, EPIDEMIC and EUROPA (ZENTROPA).

Following the E-trilogy von Trier directed two productions for television: MEDEA (1988) and the series THE KINGDOM I and II (1994 and 1997), the latter directed in collaboration with Morten Arnfred. For THE KINGDOM Lars von Trier created a technical style that made it easier to focus on the story and the cast. The knowledge led on to the Dogme concept. THE KINGDOM was mainly shot using handheld cameras. Von Trier ignored the usual rules of light, continuity and editing, and the result was distorted colours and grainy images. The series was von Trier's first major popular success. The huge interest in THE KINGDOM at home and abroad made it possible for von Trier and his producers, Peter Aalbæk Jensen and Vibeke Windeløv, to finance his next big project, BREAKING THE WAVES, the first film of the Golden Heart trilogy.

This second trilogy was inspired by a sentimental children's book from von Trier's childhood about a little girl who is always ready to sacrifice herself to help others. The Golden Heart trilogy consists of: BREAKING THE WAVES, THE IDIOTS and DANCER IN THE DARK.

In 1995 Lars von Trier presented the Dogme 95 manifesto with its "Vow of Chastity" and in 1998 his dogme film THE IDIOTS received its premiere.

Lars von Trier's films have all been officially selected for the International Film Festival in Cannes, and they have won seven awards, including the Grand Jury Prize for BREAKING THE WAVES and the Palme d'Or for DANCER IN THE DARK. His film and TV work has won a wealth of international awards, including an Oscar nomination for Emily Watson's performance in BREAKING THE WAVES.

Directing the Danish comedy "DIREKTOREN FOR DET HELE", Lars von Trier is taking a break from his third trilogy, USA — Land of Opportunities; DOGVILLE being the first and MANDERLAY the second part of the trilogy.

2000 D-DAY, collective Dogme project with Thomas Vinterberg, Soren Kragh-Jacobsen & Kristian Levring)
1997 THE KINGDOM 2, co-director: Morten Arnfred
1994 THE KINGDOM, co-director: Morten Arnfred
1988 MEDEA, TV
1981 THE LAST DETAIL, short
1980 NOCTURNE, short
1979 MENTHE, short

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Lars von Trier

Written by: Lars von Trier

Produced by: Vibeke Windeløv

Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle

Editing: Molly Malene Stensgaard

Production Design: Peter Grant

Costume Design: Manon Rasmussen

Original Score: Joachim Holbek

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard (Grace), Isaach de Bankolé (Timothy), Danny Glover (Wilhelm), Willem Dafoe (gangster boss)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Cinematographer – Prix Carlo Di Palma 2005
  • European Composer 2005
  • European Production Designer 2005
  • Feature Film Selection 2005