Cate Blanchett was everywhere at this year’s Venice Film Festival. In fulfilling her duties as jury president, with all its attendant red carpets and water taxi rides, the actor managed to fill the celebrity void. But on the festival’s penultimate night, Blanchett was also everywhere, elsewhere: inside Michael Fuchs Galerie in Berlin, 700 miles away. In fact, there were four Cate Blanchetts, all larger than life and repeating the same simple phrases: “I love you” and “I don’t love you.”
The backstory is slightly more complicated. Two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Galen introduced the personality classification system that is The Four Temperaments’s namesake. There are four Blanchetts because, according to Galen, anyway, there are four personality types.
The red, almost psychotic Blanchett is Choleric; the blue, pensive one is Melancholic; the green, calmer one is Phlegmatic; and the yellow, relatively calmer one is Sanguine.The dialogue is where the artist behind the video, Marco Brambilla, comes in. “The idea was to create drama out of the simplest elements,” he said on the phone from Berlin. Hence just enough to communicate “the two most primal emotions”: love and hate.
Blanchett aficionados may recall that this is familiar territory for the actor: She played all 13 different roles in Julian Rosefeldt’s film Manifesto, which Brambilla saw during a visit to Berlin. It was actually what gave him the idea. “I thought, this is just insane, the range of this person,” he said of the experience, which has stuck with him ever since. But The Four Temperaments, he assured, is “very different—reduced down to the very bare essentials of characters and dialogue.” After all, the latter consists of just two lines.
Brambilla knew he needed an actor who didn’t rely on hair and makeup to convey personality, given that the dialogue doesn’t change. And after watching Manifesto, he was sure Blanchett was the one. “She kind of disappears into her characters from the films you’ve seen,” he said. “No other actor really becomes the character like she does. You think about the character, not her.” Luckily for Brambilla, when he approached her last year, she said yes.
The shoot took place this past August, when London was starting to reopen up. As with most projects that got underway before March, that wasn’t the original plan. (Nor was Zoom, where they continued to prepare.) Brambilla compiled a 10-minute reel of other actors delivering those same two lines, drawing on everything from Hitchcock films to Mexican soap operas. At Blanchett’s request, he later made an addition: What better model for the Phlegmatic character’s zombie-like delivery than a throwaway “I love you” in softcore porn?
The video installation, which is on view through November 14, was designed as a confrontation. (The gallery currently permits just five visitors at a time.) The other component to The Four Temperaments happens to be much more pandemic-friendly: an augmented reality version of the two-minute, 40-second video, accessible to any smart phone owner who downloads the Acute Art app.
There are still four Blanchetts, but this time, they’re on the go, drifting across the screen against the backdrop of your choice. Again, a Hitchcock inspiration: The director’s last film, Family Plot, opens with a crystal ball, which acts as “a conduit into the supernatural and everything it implies.” To Brambilla, the crystal ball Blanchetts are almost more anxiety-inducting, by invading your personal space.
“I designed it in such a way that if you move your phone, it follows you, almost like it’s tied to an elastic,” Brambilla said. “It gets a little bit claustrophobic, but then it goes back to being seductive.” The plus side with the app is you can close out before the former part.