BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS (Kino Lorber)

By • May 22nd, 2014 •

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{CONTAINS SPOLIERS}

During the experimental era of the 1960’s, Jorgen Leth of Denmark made a 12 minute film entitled, THE PERFECT HUMAN, as part of the avant-garde movement that flourished during this decade.

This is THE PERFECT HUMAN: Against a white backdrop, a male in a tuxedo fiddles with a pipe followed by shots of a woman touching her hair. An English speaking narrator: “Here is the perfect human…” In repeated succession are zooming close-ups of feet and eyes. Now, the “perfect human” is jumping. The narrator gives a play by play of the action of how he falls and how she lies down. It goes on.

Flash forward to 2001. Lars von Trier challenges Jorgen Leth to remake the 1967 film five times differently. Each time there will be “obstructions” or rules and restrictions implemented by Trier.

His obstructions for the first attempt are:

No cut may be longer than 12 frames
Answers to the questions asked by the narrator
No set
Shot in Cuba

Leth resumes his episodic film sequel in Cuba to reincarnate his prefect human as a Latin Chobia smoking, pony-tailed male. Digital editing tools and decades of evolutionary filmmaking techniques aid in the creation of the PERFECT HUMAN “2.0.” As the male is in various states of dress and undress and as he moves to music and then to silence, the narrator poses the question, “Why is he moving like that?” The answer, “Because women like when he moves like that.” 12 frame clips of the man and a woman are intercut with images of a Cuban newspaper, music, silence, and narration continue the short.

Regrouping sometime later, the duo reviews the finished piece then proceed to the next challenge. Keep in mind that this is in 2001-2003, prior to Trier’s critical acclaim as he is lauded by numb, nimble-minded idiots for his “trilogies.” It is obvious to the voyeur that Trier is ever so pleased with himself, smugly dictating to and verbally bashing Leth. His sciolism is ever so sickening.

Trier sets out “…to banalize him…to find things that hurt…putting ethics to the test…make him empathize.” He wants to send him to the most miserable place on earth and it’s up to Leth to choose the location. Trier asks, “Would you film a dying child in a refugee camp?” “No, I wouldn’t, I’m not perverse.” Trier continues, “Don’t show it. Get close to it. But, don’t film it.”

In 2002, Jorgen Leth is in Bombay. En route to the shoot, a woman with a child in her arms begging for alms appeals to Leth as he sits in a traffic-entrenched vehicle, visibly upset by her situation. He voices that Trier will most likely be pleased by this occurrence.

On a crowded street with hungry onlookers, a semi-transparent backdrop silhouettes the people as it frames Leth standing in the foreground. He begins shaving. The narration: Also today, I experienced something that I hope to understand in a few days. Around my right hand a circle of blurred white flames. Next set-up: A table spread with a bountiful feast for Leth to gorge himself.

The film is reviewed by Trier who speaks harshly, reprimanding Leth that this is not the film that he asked him to shoot. The rule was not to see the people. Leth claims to have interpreted that obstruction loosely. Trier mandates, “I have to punish you somehow.” Leading to the next obstruction:

Complete Freedom or it’s back to Bombay to shoot once again. Decidedly, Leth shoots the third segment in Brussels with the original perfect human – Claus Nissen.

Segment four is a cartoon. Both men dislike this medium. Actually, they “despise” cartoons. The cartoon is created in Austin, Texas.

Finally, the last of the segments, number five, will be created by Trier. In true Trier fashion, he will arrogate with arrogance. His reasoning is that his area of expertise is Jorgen Leth. Why would Trier sit on the sidelines and have Leth create ALL five versions of his own film? In this segment, Leth will be credited as the director and read written text by Trier. Source footage is the material shot during the various segments. It’s the weakest of all the segments shot.

Kino Lorber re-released this DVD recently. It serves as an introduction to Jorgen Leth and as an enriching cinema perspective to experimental filmmaking. The extra feature on the DVD is THE PERFECT HUMAN. Since Leth’s film was originally shot when Bolex and Steenbeck were standard, there has been decades of advancement in the technology of storytelling such as Sony and Final Cut. It would have been beneficial to hear his take on both eras. With the tools of the trade easily within grasp these days, the lack of artistic experimentation in this medium is a wonder. (A seven second vine video is not experimentation.)

THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS is an interesting concept of reimagining of an artist’s work decades later. One must ask – if Warhol would have remade EMPIRE or SLEEP, what would his interpretation have been.

This is also a look into two different types of personalities. Leth is a pleasant individual. While distraught at times, he always takes Trier’s criticisms with a sense of amusement. We should part with an image depiction of the personality that Lars von Trier displays through the couple of years that this film’s production spanned. From Trier’s mouth, “I wanted to impose the flagellation on Jorgen.” Undoubtedly, he’s a berating, nasty little man.

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