Five Obstructions, The (Denmark/Switzerland/Belgium/France; 90 min.)

directed by: Jørgen Leth; Lars von Trier
starring: Claus Nissen; Majken Algren Nielsen;
Jørgen Leth
De Fem Benspænd

Bruce says: "THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS is not the film it was purported to be nor was it at all what I had anticipated. The film is billed as a 'battle of the minds' between Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth, an acclaimed Danish director who is now living in Haiti. Leth was a mentor of von Trier for many years. To me the film was more of a giant homage to the elder director, a cinematic thank you note. It also appears to be an attempt to resuscitate Leth’s career or at least let the commercial filmgoing world know more about the man von Trier considers to be a true genius. Perhaps von Trier’s efforts were made to assuage the guilt of the pupil becoming more successful than the teacher.

"The premise of THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS is that Leth must remake his 1967 classic, THE PERFECT HUMAN, five times with various obstructions dictated by von Trier. THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS includes considerable footage from THE PERFECT HUMAN, dialogue between the two directors as terms are set for each of the five films, the actual filming of the five films and the viewing of the five finished products.

"The first round starts with von Trier telling Leth he must have no single edit longer than twelve frames, he must answer questions that are raised in the original film, and he must film in Cuba without using a set. When Leth returns to Denmark with the first assignment, HOMBRE PERFECTO, completed von Trier remarks, 'You look good – that’s a bad sign. You should look battered. I want to banalize you – that’s what I want you to help me to do' The bad sign is that the dialogue appears contrived. And to some extent this feeling hangs over the remaining four iterations.

"The second film must be shot in 'a miserable place,' the miserable place can’t be shown in the film, and Jorgen himself must be the star. Just before the first film Leth admits to a penchant for alcohol and for this film he claims to be armed with valium just to be on the safe side. He appears to be a man who no longer trusts himself. THE PERFECT HUMAN was filmed against a white backdrop. The second film was shot in Bombay against a white plastic scrim through which a veritable tableau of Bombay inhabitants was hazily visible. It looks beautiful. 'This was not the film I asked for,' claims von Trier. 'Marvelous...I loved it, but I didn’t follow the rules.' replies Leth.

"For the third film, Leth is given the choice of returning to Bombay and remaking the film as originally requested or to make another film, a film of complete freedom with no rules whatsoever. 'I have to punish you somehow. What should it be...I think the punishment should fit the crime,' von Trier taunts. So Leth goes to Brussels and films an ethereal version of THE PERFECT HUMAN.

"For the fourth film, von Trier is determined to get Leth’s goat. He asks Leth to make a cartoon. 'I hate cartoons,' replies Leth. So off to Austin, Texas, Leth goes to find a state-of-the-art animator. What he ends up with is a montage of cartoons created by digitally animating his first three assignments. It is stunning in its creativity. 'I think this is a beautiful film,' von Trier concludes.

"The final film von Trier decides to make himself with Leth narrating. It is Leth’s voice speaking as Leth but reading von Trier’s written words, 'I try to fool the world because I don’t want to feel part of it. The dishonest person was you Lars. You only see what you want to see.' I felt that I had stumbled into a private conversation that was never meant to be overheard. I would have preferred to see more of Leth’s beautiful, carefully thought out product and less of von Trier’s hidden agenda, however altruistic that may be. 3.5 cats"

Barbara says: "I am still not sure if von Trier was trying to pay his respects to his former teacher (Jorgen leth) or if he was trying to show him the he had far surpassed him since the student was so much more successful than the teacher). By the end of the film I didn’t care. 2.5 Cats"