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  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Five Obstructions is a passkey into the often forbidding world of Lars von Trier's films. It's a short, documentary-like, highly conceptual film about a `game' Von Trier played with an older fellow Dane, Jørgen Leth, a kind of filmmaking mentor for him. In the Sixties Leth made a short art film called The Perfect Human, which Von Trier has always greatly admired. For The Five Obstructions, Leth and Von Trier get together and plan for Leth to `remake' the film with Von Trier setting arbitrary and challenging new conditions to govern the process. In the course of this film, Leth `remakes' The Perfect Human four times, and then Von Trier makes up a `letter' in Leth's voice describing what has happened.

    By watching this `game,' we find out a lot about how Von Trier works with other people in making a film. It's not only here that Von Trier has begun by imposing a set of limitations upon himself and others; he always does that. This certainly provides a handy way of seeing his challenging, often maddening, work. Von Trier becomes a little like Guy Grand, Terry Southern's wicked trickster millionaire in The Magic Christian, whose whole delight is in getting people to do things that are against their nature. Grand gets them to do it for money; Von Trier gets Leth to do it out of friendship. Presumably when Von Trier has put actors like Emily Watson or Nicole Kidman through their ordeals, they have done it for art. This time, it's the mutual friendship and respect that humanizes the abrasive Von Trier, and in frankly accepting his total failure to stump Leth or spoil his fun, Von Trier shows himself to be a better sport than his critics might have expected. But he also shows himself to be wicked and mean, with a sense of humor that's both playful and malicious – again, like Terry Southern's Guy Grand.

    Snatches of The Perfect Human appear throughout The Five Obstructions, but it's worth noting that we never see it all, nor do we see all of Leth's new `versions.' We have to take it on faith that they're the way Von Trier or Leth say they are. The `remakes' are obviously very free adaptations, and the latter ones are more commentaries on the remake process than anything else.

    The Perfect Human is an arty film in which a well dressed man eats, talks, and dances in front of a blank white ground while a voiceover asks `Is this what the Perfect Man does?'

    Von Trier's assumption clearly is that Leth himself is the `Perfect Human,' and that his arbitrary rules for the `remakes' (the first of which is that no take will be longer than 12 frames – half a second) will put dents in Leth's control so deep, will cut so far into the crystal glass of his perfection, that he will fall apart and will be forced to make a `mess.' This is what Von Trier repeatedly states: that nothing would make him happier than for Leth to make a `mess.' He hopes that through destroying Leth's artifice he will make Leth produce something truer and more human.

    Other requirements are for Leth to make the film in Cuba, where he's never been; in `the most horrible place in the world' (which turns out to be the red light district of Mombai-Bombay, where he has been) but without showing its horror; to do a `remake' without rules; to do one in the form of an animated cartoon (a format neither man likes), and so on. Von Trier comes up with these different `obstructions' randomly when the two men meet at various stages in the `game.'

    But Leth makes no messes. He succeeds brilliantly in working within the difficult limitations Von Trier has set and comes up with a polished work every time, and though he seems to be losing some sleep on the first go-through, he gets happier and happier as things go forward, a sign Von Trier finds ominous. In the end the letter read as a voiceover by Leth, but written by Von Trier, states that it's Von Trier who's shown his weaknesses. It's the aggressor, not the victim, who shows his faults, he says. It's Von Trier, he admits (in the voice of Leth), who has been pretending in all his films to be authentic but really lying and concealing himself behind a mask of artifice.

    The `game' may sound orderly when described, but in fact the whole framework is a very loose convention; it isn't followed closely. This also sheds light on Von Trier's working methods in his films: they aren't as rationally structured as they appear. Von Trier doesn't impose the same kind of limitations on Leth each time; he imposes fewer and different ones, and `obstruction' five is really just to credit Leth along with Von Trier, to make the footage of their conversations into this film, and to have Leth read the `letter' Von Trier wrote for him.

    Von Trier freely admits that Leth's solutions to his `obstructions' are brilliant, starting with the 12-frame takes, which Leth turns into a jazzy staccato rhythm. In Bombay, Leth shoots himself in front of a semi-transparent scrim that does show, and yet hide, the teeming masses behind him as he eats a sybaritic meal dressed in evening clothes. It's cheating, yet it's also a masterstroke. For the animated cartoon version, he gets Bob Sabiston, the man who did the animations for Richard Linklater's superb Waking Life, and its not surprising that the result is an elegant and fresh-looking commentary on all the previous films made in the series, including the original Perfect Human film from the Sixties.

    The whole paradox is that both Von Trier and Leth are control freaks and that even their playing about with loss of control is highly controlled. Viewers are free to see The Five Obstructions as a sterile exercise. J.Hoberman calls it `one part documentary, one part psychodrama, and one part mock manifesto' and that's about right. But I found it interesting, and my first chance to watch a Von Trier film without being repulsed. But is it a Von Trier film -- or a film about Von Trier? That is hard to say.
  • Lars von Trier is an unusual director, in that he makes films of massive emotional intensity, and yet also appears interested in formal innovation for its own sake: the Dogme manifesto, of which he was co-author, suggested that films should be made according to certain rules, partly for the expected benefits of following them, but also for the benefits of simply being constrained (a philosophy resembling that of Georges Perec and the Oulipop group of novelists). In some ways, 'The Five Obstructions' is both the perfect demonstration of this attitude, and also his strangest film yet. Jorgen Leth is a director who made, in 1967, von Trier's favourite film, an innovative (but arguably cold) short called 'The Perfect Human'; in 'The Five Obstructions', Leth agrees to remake this film in five different ways, subject to constraints imposed by von Trier. The story of his doing so, along with excerpts from all six films, comprises this one. It's the ultimate recursive project, a "making-of" documentary with itself as both subject and object, an effect enhanced by the way that each film becomes a commentary on, and an extension of, its predecessors. von Trier does not dare, however, to suggest he can improve on the original; on the contrary, he professes to hope that his obstructions will force Leth to make a bad film, and therefore reveal something more of his own emotions than have hitherto been shown. In this, however, he fails. 'The Five Obstructions' becomes a film-making masterclass, as Leth continually finds something new to say in spite of the increasing restrictions against him saying anything; his natural inventiveness, and skill, make you want to see the films he has chosen to make for himself. von Trier, by contrast, appears as a fool, although as the resulting documentary is his creation, he is maybe not as foolish as he appears. Indeed, there's almost certainly an unavoidable level of artifice in the apparently "real" scenes where the two men talk, each are too skilled as film-makers to be wholly unaware of what they are doing. But there does seem to be a real human story, as Leth's enthusiasm for his task, and for life itself, is driven upwards by the series of apparently insane challenges with which he is encumbered. It's an odd film for anyone to make, but maybe proves von Trier's point; for what stands above the contrivance is pure gold.
  • Debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival 2003 The Five Obstructions is a whimsical yet deeply philosophical dialogue between Lars Van Trier and Jørgen Leth, one of Lars Van Trier's director heroes.

    The movie is based upon the reconstruction of Leth's 1967 work The Perfect Human ( De Fem benspænd ). This 1967 black and white film is starkly minimalist and humourous detailing a Danish point of view - an analysis of a perfect human and how the perfect human acts and interacts with the world. Within the film are two characters : a man and a woman each shot separately and each probed by the camera. How the perfect human eats. How the perfect human lies down. How he falls. This is the human eye. This is the perfect human's ear, eye, knee.

    The Perfect Human is the perfect film.

    The dialogue between Leth and Van Trier shot in the year 2001 is humourous and philosophical. Van Trier sets out to challenge Leth by making his recreate The Perfect Human but under Van Trier's terms.

    The first obstruction for instance is to have shots with no more than 12 frames each, it has to be shot in Cuba and with no set. The audience laughs as each point of the obstruction is set upon the screen.

    The camera crew follows Leth around the world and records his reactions to the challenge and the process of how he sets to film the First Obstructions in Cuba. He finds the concept of 12 frames monumentously crazy. He has to find the perfect humans to cast in the country, a country he has never been to. He comes back to Denmark and they view the result: an exquisite little film which is surprising and beautiful.

    The rest of the film poses the rest of the Five Obstructions - each a result of Van Trier's subsequent reactions to the films that Leth brings back.

    The conversation between the two is akin to a psychoanalyst and his patient yet the two are friends. There is much laughter and delight and the results of the five obstructions are pristinely beautiful. You also get to see Van Trier's ego at work and the wheels spinning as Leth responds to the challenge. The overall film of The Five Obstructions in itself is a delight and a learning experience that should not be missed.
  • After watching this film all I could think about was how I would love to take this premise and use it on some of America's finest directors. Money, power, and wealth. These are just some of the elements that you gain by having a blockbuster film, but can you take your pride and joy and transform it into different avenues while still keeping the overall tone the same? It is a tough question, one that I wonder if our American directors could accomplish. I wonder if Peter Jackson, Spielberg, or Lucas could take their prized collections and still have the creative mind to make the same film with some 'obstructions'? My initial answer would be 'no', but I wouldn't mind seeing them try.

    This film was brilliant to say the least. I went into it without really knowing anything about Jorgen Leth, and finished wanting to see more of his work. I was impressed with his original film The Perfect Human and thought that his four remakes were nothing short of outstanding. Each one was perfect in its own right and yet somehow was able to continue the overall themes and elements. They were works of a genius. This leads me to another question I had while watching this film. Did Trier know that Leth could do this? Trier was once a student of Leth and considers him to be the best director our there, he must have known that Leth could accomplish such tasks. In fact, I think this may have been Trier's way of allowing a new generation to experience the brilliant mind of Leth. Trier pushed Leth to new levels, but I think in a way he knew that Leth would be able to overcome and provide some new and beautiful shots. Trier seemed like a very hard nosed person in this film, and that he constantly ordered, instead of asking his subject to do things. I think we witnessed Trier in his original form. Kidman has reported as saying that Trier is very difficult to work for and I think it is because of the way that Trier works. Very similar to Gilliam, Trier has the vision in his mind. He knows how he wants the scene to play out, and unless it works just as much as it did in his mind, he will not be happy. Why not? It is his film. Some actors and others in the business call it insanity, but I think it is the talent of a beautiful director. That is why I am a fan of both Trier and Gilliam, and now Leth.

    While it is interesting to see these two directors work against and for each other, the ultimate enjoyment is the different renditions of The Perfect Human. Giving a director the tasks that Trier did may force some of the themes and elements of original short to be lost in the shuffle; Leth never allows that to happen. It is amazing to see the similarities, yet subtle differences between the original and the new. Each of them work and give such a intense new spin on the story. Within all of this we begin to see the themes leaving the work, and coming straight at these directors. Trier is trying to show that Leth is just as human and emotional as the subject in his film. In fact, Trier even shows that Leth is as human and emotional as himself. They way this is shown is very subtle, but it is there. We are working with two different filmmakers. One is young and a very prominent name in cinema, while the other is aging and as generations continues to gap, losing followers to his film. Trier wanted, and does, show that there is little difference between himself and Leth. They are both humans. They are both full of emotion.

    My favorite scene was when Trier mentions to Leth that he wants Leth to feel like a 'tortoise on his back'. He wants Leth to experience hardship and struggle, perhaps even frustration, and therefore Trier gives him the cartoon obstruction. In a very mocking fashion, Leth happens to put a tortoise in the film. The ball is in your court, von Trier.

    Overall, this is an amazing film. I am an enormous fan of short films, and to see little snippets of Leth's mind was exciting and revolutionary. I recommend this film to anyone that is fed up with the lack of creativity in the 'reality' based television series and long for something more artistic. This film reminded me of walking through an art museum and seeing several works from Leth. It is a place I would never want to leave.

    Grade: ***** out of *****
  • THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS (Lars von Trier - Belgium/Denmark/France/Switserland 2003).

    Lars von Trier is not known for trying to please his audiences, but this one is different... Probably, it wasn't his intention while making this film either, but with THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS he has come up with something surprisingly entertaining. In this documentary-like film he challenges one of his favorite filmmakers (and his old film school professor) Jorgen Leth to produce a remake of his 1967 short film "The Perfect Human", each to be directed by Leth according to von Trier's diktat, or his 'Five Obstructions'. The result is an interesting documentary about Leth's efforts and the limitations each artist has to impose on himself to create art or - in this case - film.

    The first obstruction is that Jorgen Leth should make a movie where no edit can last more than 12 frames (about half a second) and it must be shot on Cuba. Leth states it's impossible and can't be done, but he tries anyway and succeeds in making a wonderful film and von Trier is delighted with the results. Now he must make a film in the worst place on earth where he is "the perfect human." Leth is put to the test even more and decides to shoot in a red-light district in Bombay where he stages a sumptuous and decadent dinner table on the street, where he dines in smoking, while hordes of impoverished locals are watching him eat.

    The quality of the remakes may vary, but the film really comes to live when the two men meet. After the Bombay experiment Von Trier downtalks him, claiming he didn't stick to his obstructions, but Leth remains polite and buoyant during some of the brilliant verbal sparring matches about the endless limitations and possibilities of the medium. Despite Leth's difficulties in coping with the obstructions von Trier imposed on him, his most difficult assignment is when he is given complete freedom to make whatever he wants. It turned out to be the ultimate punishment von Trier could give him.

    Camera Obscura --- 8/10
  • Many documentaries stand back from their subject, to portray it 'objectively', or else throw themselves into it with a fervour with which they hope to carry along the audience. The Five Obstructions is very different, turning in on itself to examine the creative process of film-making in a self-revelatory way that packs both instructive, artistic merit and emotional punch.

    Lars von Trier is one of the founders of the Danish school of film-making (or collective) called Dogme 95. He instituted the idea of fairly arbitrary rules (the so-called 'Ten Commandments') as a possible route to more intrinsic cinema, avoiding the technological excesses and hollowness of Hollywood style movies. While there are similarities with the Dogme approach, Five Obstructions is not a 'Dogme' film: but it looks at the idea of rules as a means of stimulating the creative process.

    The starting point is a early film short by Trier's old mentor, Jørgen Leth, called The Perfect Human. It is a seemingly anthropological movie where a human being (a man, switching occasionally to a woman) does various basic actions, walking, dressing, eating, undressing, jumps, dances, and a voice over says how we are going to "see the perfect human being in action". There is the occasional introspective line where the character ponders, "Today, too, I had an experience that I hope I shall understand in a few days' time." We see Trier (who considers himself an expert on very few things in life but Leth is one of them) in conversation with Leth. The latter accepts a challenge from Trier to remake the film five times, but each time with a different set of conditions imposed by Trier – who will then judge how successfully Leth has succeeded in the task. The atmosphere is almost like a PhD student and tutor, yet although Trier obviously holds Leth in very high regard, it is Leth who is undergoing the teaching.

    Through successive shoots, Trier makes Leth confront that which he most dislikes. He compares the process to when he is directing an actor, forcing a performance from the actor that the actor didn't know was within them. In the first four takes, we see Leth produce something that is artistically worthy with even the most daunting physical and psychological obstructions, but it is in the final obstruction that Trier produces a cathartic effect, turning the tables so thoroughly on Leth and himself that the result is greater than both of them. Instead of a documentary about a film about how a perfect human being works, it becomes a documentary about how a perfect film maker works.

    The ending justifies the rather long and mentally tiring prelude. The overall result is a lasting testament on a particular way of reaching the creative process, and also a documentary testament to Trier's own particular genius. There is no artifice, no hype, only two people of great artistic integrity working together to pull something from their subconscious of lasting greatness.
  • Lars Von Trier instigated this endlessly fascinating cinema experiment with fellow Danish filmmaker, and mentor/hero; Jorgen Leth. Trier challenged Leth to remake his 1967 short film "The Perfect Human" five different times, each time with a different set of obstructions or conditions. The obstructions range from technical to philosophical, and are sometimes plucked out at random by Trier in direct response to Leth's actions or words, during their many whimsical, very funny, nebulous exchanges. The most diabolical condition Trier concocts is of coarse that Leth has no conditions, which places all the potential blame, guilt, pressure, and creative insecurity totally back on Leth himself. Nothing though seems to get the better of Leth, and Trier appears to be frustrated and bemused every time Leth brings back a good film, of which we get to see the process and clips of the end creation. Trier states he wants to "banalize," Leth and each time hopes Leth will fail and return with a bad film, but Leth never does. Each reworking of The Perfect Human (1967) is an interesting and often poetic creation (at least the snippets that we get to see). One version is even animated by Bob Sabiston; the guy responsible for the great rotoscopish, brightly colored animation process and design in Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2005). It's hard to decipher Trier's true nature; at times he seems playful and at others, deadly serious. His intentions are (deliberately?) obscure. Is it all just a friendly game of chess or full on metaphysical warfare? This uncertainty and the sheer novelty of seeing Lars Von Trier and Jorgen Leth toy with each other on screen makes for a great shifty-eyed, quasi-exploratory, neo-deadpan, pseudo-straight-laced, doc-o-comedy, mock-drama.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Something of an inside exercise to those familiar with Von Trier and the Dogme Vows of Chastity, on reflection and re-viewing, The Five Obstructions appears more of a conversation with an old friend, an attempt to jigger a mentor out of lethargic retreat, exile imposed by feelings of age and irrelevance. What appears as harsh egotism is actually the opposite. In discussions of the Bombay scene, for example, during the assignment portion, Von Trier could have easily seized on Leth's desire to go only to places "with a hotel" by insisting that he film where lodgings were primitive. But he let the moment pass without comment. Afterward, he expressed his displeasure by saying, "I must listen to my own opinion," which sounds like narcissism, but in the context of the discussion is more of an apology. He listens to Leth at length without comment or interruption and doesn't send Leth back to Bombay. During Von Trier's segment, he makes the point that the "attacker" is often more exposed than the "victim," and in this humbles himself. He shows Leth falling to a hotel room floor like "a perfect man" -- Von Trier's way of coming back playfully to his teacher with fame and fortune in his pocket to show the world who taught him a great portion of what he knows.

    The 12-frame and cartoon segments are wonderful, the Bombay and free-form segments disappointing, and Von Trier's final disposition quite touching and revealing. This is not a work of genius or a masterpiece, nor is it a shallow and sadistic ego trip. It is a fascinating and exquisite little exercise in six parts -- five "obstructions" and one extended, honest, personal and aesthetic dialog between two highly-skilled filmmakers who are close friends. We are privileged to witness them interact in an artificially-structured fashion, and it's great fun.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In the late 1960's, Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth made a short conceptual work, titled The Perfect Human. Future filmmaker Lars von Trier saw Leth's film as a student in the 70's and was deeply inspired by it's use of cinematic rules and uncluttered presentation of cinematic composition. Over thirty years on, von Trier, now a close friend of Leth, has presented the elderly director with a mammoth task. He is to remake his celebrated short film, The Perfect Human not once, but five times, each with a strict and unarguably eccentric set of guidelines devised by von Trier.

    The Five Obstructions gives a great insight into the lives of these two filmmakers, as it documents Leth's cinematic strategies and intuitive genius in the face of von Trier's questioning pomposity, though ultimately the film ends up as little more than a subtle in-joke between the two filmmakers which, although interesting and enjoyable, leaves the viewer with little of personal meaning to take home with them. Leth's cinematic obstructions, here devised by von Trier, are an attempt to strip away any remnants of the senior director's genius, with von Trier proclaiming that the film won't be a success until Leth has turned it into a piece of crap (...von Trier's words!). The obstructions run the gauntlet from the seriously challenging (like no cut can be longer than twelve frames, the action must take place near a an 'unseen' scene of personal degradation), to the seriously strange (the film must be shot in Havana, the film must be a cartoon, your obstruction is there are no obstructions... and so on).

    Leth is able to deliver the film with almost all of von Trier's obstructions taken into consideration and, when each film is finished, the two filmmakers sit down together and watch the film whilst Leth is given the opportunity to explain to von Trier what his intentions were. The final obstruction is possibly von Trier's least pretentious concoction ever, as he turns the film completely on its head in a way that you'll either find mildly infuriating or heart-warmingly endearing. The film is a bold experiment and demonstrates how a filmmaker can elaborate on something they already view of as a 'perfect work' by being given a series of set guidelines by someone outside of the initial production's conception. But it could have been so much more.

    Many have viewed the film as an interesting essay into the nature of the auteur and the role of the director as the soul vision behind a work, but more people have seen it instead as a noble attempt by von Trier to lure the aging Leth away from his self-imposed exile in Haiti and his often mentioned, crippling depression. At any rate, the film has it's pros and cons, one of them being the notion that a film marketed as being very much about von Trier as a film-scamp turns out to be an intelligent and astute look into the workings of a filmmaker sadly neglected outside his native Denmark. I came to this film wanting to experience it as a fan of von Trier, but I left it wanting to learn more about Leth and to track down some of his works (shorts and documentaries) that are criminally unavailable here in the UK.

    The DVD of the Five Obstructions features the full-length version of Leth's original Perfect Human short, though it's lack of subtitles will cause an obvious hindrance for those of us who aren't fluent in the Danish language... though, this too could be an arcane obstruction for the audience, presented by von Trier. Well, perhaps? At the end of the day, The Five Obstructions remains an interesting look into the strange working relationship and antagonistic friendship that these two very different men share. It has humour, interesting visuals (taken from Leth's films) and a bold idea, but it could and should have delivered a lot more than it actually does.

    As the credits begin to roll, we are left with the feeling that, yes, I enjoyed that... did I learn anything from it? No, not really. This is an interesting failure, for cinephiles, von Trier fanatics & those with an interest in European film only.
  • ...'The Five Obstructions' is not for everyone. This is for you if you love documentaries. This is for you if you respect the maverick minds of filmmakers playing with each other's head. This is for you if you can appreciate the intention behind this documentary. This is for you if you would like to see a veteran filmmaker being challenged to remake an earlier short film of his.

    Also if you are so used to being spoon fed with a steady dose of ulcer generating colored candy, forget all about renting this gem.Here's hoping there wont be people who watch this, get disgruntled and then plaster all over the internet with not so kind reviews.

    Instead, here's hoping these filmmakers come back with a sequel- if that beautiful being called Jorgen Leth agrees!.
  • howToDie27 September 2008
    This is more than a beautiful tribute to Jørgen Leth's artistic genius.

    It is also Lars' personal and intimate confession so powerful and emotive no doubt it is there to overwhelm you. As in many von Trier's movies the revelation comes at a climatic moment completely changing the direction and the pace of the film. And suddenly it reveals so many intricate details of the great friendship between these two extraordinary artists of our times.

    The five remakes of "The Perfect Human" are as fascinating as the original short and are not to be missed by anyone who is interested in world cinema.
  • This documentary was a pleasant surprise. I saw the original short movie "The Perfect Human" before viewing this, which is about re-making "The Perfect Human" under different and more difficult circumstances (the five obstacles), and I recommend others to do the same. To truly enjoy this movie you should have some interest for art movies and movie-making in general. It is amusing to see the frustrations of the movie-maker in question, Jørgen Leth, as he is ordered to cripple his original "masterpiece". The movie shows how creativity and imagination is stimulated under the right circumstances. I felt inspired after viewing this movie and actually made my own version of the short movie together with some friends (still not cut, but it will probably be awful). All in all, interesting and fun but sometimes it gets me thinking that some of the chunks between the short movies should have been cut out.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    While many art house patrons might enjoy this film immensely, the average person would have little interest in the movie. Instead of a conventional plot, the film was created by a documentary director (Lars von Trier) and he interviews veteran director Jørgen Leth about his early art film 'Det perfekte menneske' and challenged him to remake this esoteric film after given certain strict and rather arbitrary parameters ("obstructions"). Some of these requirements help to make up some dandy short films and some are just bizarre. One of the more bizarre ones actually works very well, as Leth had to make an edit every 12 frames (i.e., every 1/2 second) and the final result was unusual but watchable. I also liked the cartoon version Leth created--even though he swore that he hated cartoons. Some were pretty silly.

    However, while the ideas were intriguing, the original film was just too "artsy-fartsy" for me. Von Trier, by the way, was one of the creators of the "Dogme 95 movement"--an avant-garde manifesto that sought to create simple and "pure" films, free of the usual Hollywood clichés. In some cases (like FESTEN), this was a good thing but in other cases the films are quite difficult to watch and dull. Sure, I love foreign and independent films, but this one looked like it strictly for the beret-wearing, espresso- swilling bohemian crowd. It just wasn't my cup of tea, though the film was at times interesting. But is it really worth wading through the tedium to find a few glimpses of brilliance?
  • Dadge9 January 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    Deconstructing/reconstructing films like this must be great fun for film-makers, especially when, like here, they have the money to do it properly. But is such self-indulgence fun for outsiders like me? Well, to an extent, yes. I like games, and this was a kind of game: make it as difficult as you can to remake the film, by imposing all sorts of restrictions. "The Five Obstructions" starts really well: there's dramatic tension in the meeting of the two directors, and the challenge is tough. The original film, "The Perfect Human", is a good candidate for this sort of treatment, too, being so sparse. But perhaps unsurprisingly, once the first challenge has been met, it's all downhill from there. Von Trier runs out of ideas (IMO) and the experiment gradually runs out of steam.

    What irritated me most, though, was Von Trier's attitude. At first it seemed that he and Leth were buddies having a bit of (sado-masochistic) fun together. But in the end I was left with the impression that Von Trier was patronising Leth, kind of trying to help out an old has-been as a thank-you for all the inspiration he'd taken from him in his early days. I found this a bit rich, considering that Leth is an archetype of cool, and far and away the star of the film. Next to him, Von Trier just came across as an upstart nerd.
  • It is true that in recent times,documentary film as a genre has been popularized by American director Michael Moore.However,most documentary films are neither made for nor understood by ordinary viewers.Danish film "The Five Obstructions" is a documentary film which truly represents this rule.It is a documentary for a selected audience as it requires audience's active participation in order to learn more about the personalities of two important people connected with it namely Danish directors Lars Von Trier and Jørgen Leth.What is important to watch is the manner in which both directors appreciate each other's genius.It is the viewer who decides which director is the best."The Five Obstructions" has a lot of useful material for cinema students too.A serious film student can learn a lot by watching how some of Lars Von Trier's challenges have elevated cinema's status as a 'serious art'.As a puzzle about cinema and the possibilities it offers to make an honest comment about people and the art of cinema,The Five Obstructions is an interesting albeit serious watch for all viewers who believe that cinema is not always synonymous with entertainment.
  • Modern art house director Lars von Trier spends a few months torturing his idol, the experimental documentarian Jørgen Leth, in a variety of cruel and unusual ways. As the taskmaster of a twisted private game, von Trier compels Leth to painstakingly recreate his 1967 surrealist short, The Perfect Human, on five different occasions with a gauntlet of handicaps and restrictions. A shoot might require that he employ no more than twelve frames between cuts or travel across the globe, and Leth is merrily game for it all. Ultimately, the goal is to strip the film down to the core and unravel its mysteries - many of which were seemingly lost to the director himself - and it does successfully dip a few toes into those waters. But as Leth gets more films under his belt, the obstructions become more passive, quizzical and vague. By the time we arrive at the delivery of his final film, a light, enjoyable concept has become too heady and analytical for its own good, and neither man is smiling with the kind of vigor they were at the outset.
  • I have noticed that quite a lot of people seem to dig this stuff. But I have yet to see a single explanation - even argument - as to what is the point of it all.

    I can see something mildly interesting in Von Triers idea with the five obstructions. How restricting rules can spur creativity - as with the dogma rules.

    But the original movie by Jørgen Leth can only be described as ridiculous. So this goes for the remakes too.

    I mean, look at it: "Here is a man. The perfect man. This is his eye. This is his nose. His mouth. How does he eat? This is how he eats."


    Being Danish I am ashamed that this can pass as art. Coming from the very country that brought us the story of "The emperor's new clothes".
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I really wanted to love this film. I still want to like it a lot. I am a big fan of any kind of obstruction or limitation. I really enjoy formal precepts. Oulipo is an amazing thing. Did it produce "masterpieces"? By extension...It cleared the air. It revealed the machinery and "made" nature of literary production. It de - reified "inspiration" and/or "emotion" in art. These things are great...The reflexivity in Godard...amazing. OK, the artificiality in Dogville! Also amazing.

    But I didn't feel the tension between the "Obstructions" and their products. The game was obvious, but what was learned? Leth made a few movies, and they all circled around The Perfect Human, his film from 1967. But did they land? He remade it in Bombay. He made it into a cartoon. He made it in Cuba. He made it as a classic "Three Colors: Whatever" Eurotrash film (in Brussels).

    Maybe the moral is you can never make a (former) mentor into a student, and if you think you really want to, you probably should start teaching. Get 'em while they're young, while they're really impressionable. Talk about restrictions as a kind of craft; make the students aware of the need to work and explore rather than to sit around and wait for "inspiration". This is surely useful. But for Leth? He seems happy enough self - medicating in his little quasi - retirement paradise in Haiti...what has he done since this film?

    The Perfect Human is not really a Masterpiece, IMHO. But it has in incredible "look". Sometimes I really think that the sixties were really the highpoint of filmmaking. The look of films from that time is so etched - lifelike and artificial, both at the same time. The screen image, the chiaroscuro...the clothes, the manner. Far away from the thirties "Dream Factory", but still aware that the film is an object, a thing...The Five Obstructions has that shiny, sweaty video look. It looks too casual. I can't take leave, not at all. I want to find the object that it is compelling. But I don't.
  • I had never seen nor heard of Jorgen Leth's short film, "The Perfect Man"

    Here it is online if you care to (re-)watch

    For a 10 minute film, it has some remarkably memorable moments, the man dancing, the man muttering while eating.

    That film is the seed for this one. Lo and behold the DVD revolution has come completely round, and the making of a film becomes the movie itself. While I can understand some of the detractors here, I found the film fascinating, and could not turn it off.

    There is something inherently pleasing to me, to have some one map out a series of rules and then have another person exercise some creativity within those rules, or in this case obstructions. But as surely as obstructions become creativity this film flips back upon itself.

    My obstruction as a reviewer then is to describe this as a summer blockbuster:

    This is a film about Batman and the Joker playing ping-pong, but while the game is on, the Joker is busy destroying Gotham City on the sly. However, in the end, the Joker finds that Batman is not really Batman, but Alfred the Butler in disguise (and not portrayed by Jorgen Leth), ultimately Batman has preserved Gotham.

    Yes I know that fails, but if you enjoy books about authors writing books, you may enjoy this film as I did.
  • I have a lot of respect for Von Trier's work and find most of his movies clever and stimulating. Having said that I wonder why Lars as a person seems to be so arrogant and un-sympathetic and as a director so self indulgent... The strongest message I could get from this movie was "Ooh, I'm so bloody cool!". It's a pity because a style exercise in cinema could have been a great new idea, something comparable - in literary terms - to what Queneau did, or to Italo Calvino's famous "Se una Notte d'Inverno un Viaggiatore". But it soon becomes a rather boring and self centered exercise. Those are the risks of becoming famous and celebrated... you loose the plot! What a waste of talent.
  • As a way of looking at the creative process, director Lars von Trier turns to one of his favourite short films, 1967's Det Perfekte Menneske, and challenges the director to revisit this work and remake it in completely different ways following a set of rules that they will agree for each one. With rules affecting location, editing, focus of the film, the actors involved, the script and the style in which it is made. All the time Trier pushes Jorgen Leth outside of his normal patterns to try and find what happens.

    On paper this sounds fascinating and has a concept that made me really intrigued by the whole affair. However in reality it is a rather aimless and pompous affair that delivers very little and requires the audience to do a great deal of work; and believe me, I wanted this film to be good almost so that it would make me appear smarter and cooler to be one of the comparative few who have seen it. The film falls at the first hurdle by not actually allowing us to see the 1967 version of The Perfect Human in full – thus requiring us to either try and work without it or to piece it together from the clips. Without this foundation it is hard to feel for the vision within that film that Trier then tries to change and hard to fully appreciate the challenges laid down to Leth. Although it is easy to accept that it would be hard to remake your own work in different ways, the rules imposed are so pretentious and pompous that they don't really affect the film in the way that it would have were it the exact same script remade by 5 different people; only the "animation" challenge really threatened to change the nature of the film (although they all actually did in some way). The reasons for the obstructions are never totally clear and I couldn't be sure what the actual aims of the project were (other than some vague muttering from Trier).

    For this reason the film failed to totally engage me in the way the concept had – I had no idea if it was failing or succeeding as it went. This is not to say it is without interest, because it isn't. Rather it is interesting to watch Leth make the film using his guidelines but one does have to wonder why the film didn't delve deeper into his creative process; most of the time the first we really see of his decisions is after he has made them – thus making us as clueless about the process as if we'd just been given the five versions to watch. Happily Leth is interesting to watch and is a down to earth sort of person; he almost makes up for the presence of Trier (who I had never seen before). I thought his Dogville was the best film of 2004 but here he just comes across as pompous and full of admiration for himself – he claims to admire Leth but there is nothing here to suggest that other than his words.

    Overall this is an interesting film but nowhere near as good as it sounded. The film does nothing to help the audience get into it and it is as arty and difficult as some of the films themselves – hell, it even expects us all to have seen the original film ourselves! The different versions of the short film are interesting enough and the process is interesting but is structured badly for a film and never really engaged me. With these failings it was no wonder that I soon found it hard work to really care about and get into. An interesting idea and a partial success but at no point expect it to be that good or that interesting – the film itself seems to have a distain for an audience that can't "get it" and I personally find that attitude a real turn off.
  • "the perfect human" is the quintessential meta-movie. the ultimate under-over-statement in cinema history. a clean, coherent, 60's styled "un chien andalou". it yields very little to the untrained eye.

    this is "the perfect human" all over again. with a "meta" twist, so this would make "de fem benspaend" a meta-meta-meta movie... or maybe i didn't count the layers right. i won't really bother.

    if you think you know anything about cinema, psychology or weltanschauung, you must see this one. over and over again.

    btw... all those van trier haters out there might have a better understanding of the real nature of his movies after watching this.

    if you're iq is over 130, don't miss it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Remake a film several times, with several restrictions (they really aren't obstructions: they seem so minor that they shouldn't stop him from finishing the films) For a director who seems to love the medium as much as Jorgen Leth seems to, it should be interesting to see him go through the progress of overcoming the challenge...

    if the film were challenging to make.

    The film in question, The Perfect Human, is the sort of art film that has made the word "art" so reviled to audiences. It features a guy doing nothing so interesting as walking on a pure white set, jumping, shaving, etc. as a narrator drones on. It says absolutely nothing. Give anyone a 35 millimeter camera and some money to waste, and I guarantee you they could make this film, shot for shot.

    Not to sound like an action movie junkie, but maybe if there was something that happened in this movie that was hard to do, or a story line, it would have met with my approval. But no, we have a remake of absolutely nothing over and over again.

    The remakes are, or course, just as shallow and pointless, but, notably, they look great: lots of polish. But it's like polishing a ball of shoe polish: there is no reason to look at it.

    Occasionally, unintentional humor surfaces, such as when Lars tells Jorgen to go Bombay, and make it there without letting the surroundings, which are chosen specifically for their awfulness affect the work. In essence, " go make your shallow film surrounded by infinitely more interesting material" and, of course, Jorgen does let a little local flavor in, and this pisses Trier off a little.

    Ordinarily, I'd just give this a two or three for being full of itself and pointless, but I'm knocking it down further for one little scene: for no reason, they leave in a moment of Leth and Trier eating caviar with some drink. This, an obvious attempt at trying to show themselves as sophisticated, just rubs in the audience's face "we're so rich that we freely waste money on overpriced crap." It made me think of all the poor, struggling filmmakers who want what would be pocket change for these guys, but no, the rich have to waste it on their own egos.

    It was nice to see Leth give a woman in Bombay with a child a few quid. So I'll give it two instead.
  • I agree with the favorable reviews here, using an "8" on my first viewing to mean watch more than once, and decide if it's as good or better. But I quickly missed seeing the Leth film that anchors the five challenges, which is clipped but never shown in its entirety - as the finished alternatives are. Choices of location, set, acting, sequencing and other variations in the challenge responses turn on the quirky style and themes of Leth's original "The Perfect Human" as much as von Trier's "obstructions". I was able to find a decent free stream on UbuWeb (also on Youtube) same evening, and would watch that again before giving "The Five Obstructions" another shot. As is, it's an engaging, humorous and edgy insight into creative process.
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