As I’m SURE you’re aware, Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth made a 12-minute absurdist short called “The Perfect Human” in 1967. Surely you have seen this film numerous times and have pondered its significance in the history of Danish cinema.
Sorry, I’m full of crap today. No, I’ve never seen “The Perfect Human” either. But Lars von Trier has, and he worships Leth the way some people worship chocolate, or Jesus. In “The Five Obstructions,” von Trier gets Leth to remake “The Perfect Human” five times, each with different odd rules and requirements, as an exercise for the filmmaker and a treat for us. “The Five Obstructions” shows von Trier and Leth’s conversations, Leth on location, and the finished products, all in one entertaining, voyeuristic film.
The first obstruction is that Leth must shoot the film in Cuba, and that the final product must be edited so that no shot is longer than 12 frames — about half a second. For the next variation, he must shoot in a miserable place where there is “social drama”; Leth chooses the streets of Bombay, where the film is shot against the backdrop of starving people.
And so on. It seems primarily to be a friendly game between filmmakers, but there’s a strange sadomasochism to it, too. When Leth disobeys one of von Trier’s rules, von Trier feels obligated to “punish” him somehow on the next one, a fate Leth accepts without question.
The new versions of “The Perfect Human” are presented more or less in their entirety (none is more than a few minutes long); they would be more enlightening if we’d seen the original, too, of which only excerpts are shown.
Even without having ever seen a Leth film, you can tell he’s a clever, pragmatic director, able to deal with all the obstacles von Trier gives him. How many directors would be able to do that? “The Five Obstructions” is an amusing look at idol worship and a refreshing foray into the nuts and bolts of making films, and the creativity that sets the best ones apart.
B (1 hr., 28 min.; in Danish with subtitles; )