cacb3995's Movie Review of Five Obstructions, The ( De fem benspænd )

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Five Obstructions, The ( De fem benspænd )

Filmmaking as Therapy with the Danish Masters
cacb3995 - wrote on 04/03/18

In 1967 danish director Jorgen Leth directed a short film titled The Perfect Human. In 2003 this documentary was released, where he was challenged by fellow danish filmmaker Lars von Trier to remake this film five times, each time with a different “obstruction” chosen by von Trier. The obstructions were as follows: 1) the new Perfect Human must be shot in Cuba, with no sets and no shot should be longer than 12 frames; 2) the film should be shot in the worst place in the world that Leth can imagine (as a challenge to Leth’s sense of ethics) and he himself should play the man in the film; 3) the short is to be remade with complete freedom (artistic liberty can also be a limitation); 4) the film must be a cartoon; and 5) the film is to be remade by von Trier, but Leth is to be credited as a director, all he has to do is to read a narration written by von Trier. The resulting short films, as well as the documentary itself, are an ode to the craft of filmmaking and a testament to its power as a therapeutic act.

“This isn’t a competition with yourself,” von Trier tells Leth after the second attempt, “this is therapy.” I believe this phrase is vital to understand von Trier’s intentions with this project. Believing he knows enough about Leth and that he’ll be able to make him grow as a filmmaker, he imposes a set of rules and challenges that take him out of his element. Regardless, Leth rises to the challenge each time and remakes his film in a new way that opens different perspectives. Seeing him jump from Cuba to India to Belgium to the U.S. to Haiti, stopping at Denmark every once in a while to show his film to von Trier, to see him pondering over each problem and difficulty and seeing his audacity on using each obstruction to his advantage, one can’t help but admire Leth for what he does. I’d never seen one of his films before, but after watching this I am convinced that he is a very talented and gifted filmmaker.

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