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Det perfekte menneske (1967)

An elegant and humorous film-in the guise of a serious anthropological treatise-spotlights "The Perfect Human," a model of the modern Dane created by our wishful thinking.

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Majken Algren Nielsen ...
The Perfect Woman (as Maiken Algren)
Claus Nissen ...
The Perfect Man
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Like Life in Denmark, Good and Evil, and Notes on Love, sensible anthropological study is apparently on the programme, and in Leth's award-winning breakthrough it assumes an elegant, highly amusing form. Spanning a period of 22 years these films revolve skittishly around human nature, and apart from the more documentary Life in Denmark, each has actor Claus Nissen as Leth's artful alter ego. Nissen and Maiken Algren are in an empty white room with only the essential props for each scene. A bed, bedding, a table, chairs. "We are going to see the perfect human being in action", we hear, and Leth's voice puts descriptive or puzzled words to the little actions the film exhibits: the man touches his face investigatively, fills a pipe, cuts his nails, and gets undressed, but he does peculiar things, too: he jumps as if he is weightless, snaps his fingers in strange ways, and dances with exaggerated movements and no music. "Today, too, I had an experience that I hope I shall understand in a ... Written by Anonymous

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1967 (Denmark)  »

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O Humano Perfeito  »

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Jørgen Leth's Det perfekte menneske (1967)
12 June 2013 | by See all my reviews

Shot in beautiful, bright, black & white, Jørgen Leth's The Perfect Man, although literally "the perfect human begin" (which makes more sense since there's also a woman in it) is one of the most perplexing and unique short films ever made. While short films are usually played for laughs or a punch line, Det perfekte menneske is more interested in aesthetics than making a point. The film doesn't have a narrative in a strict sense, but simply presents us with mundane activities and facts revolving around the perfect human being. Adding a layer of mystery and surreal, the perfect human himself directly addresses his audience telling us about a weird incident that happened to him. Although we don't get what he really means, at the end of the film he explains that we will understand "in a few days".

While I'm not sure we can ever understand what it means; the film has an incredible staying power, especially if you like a good riddle à la David Lynch. Det perfekte menneske (I love how that sounds in Danish) is a good example of social commentary, without being pretentious or preachy. It presents us with "facts" and leaves the viewer the interpretation of a larger meaning, even though its author certainly had its own vision and ideas when he made the film. The tranquil and soothing clarinet music, helps creating a distinct atmosphere and puts you almost in the mindset of a "brainwashing" video. In fact the whole film is very clinical in its analysis of the perfect man. The director becomes like a doctor treating a patient, his character. The empty, white rooms, the minimalist set design and the bright lighting help creating the atmosphere of a hospital or even insane asylum, where the routines of everyday life are exposed for their meaninglessness.

I first saw this short film in the context of Lars von Trier's Five Obstructions (2003) in which he challenges Jørgen Leth to remake his own film. Ever since watching that excellent documentary, I was occasionally reminded of this short film and felt the need to re-visit it. What I appreciate most about it is its simplicity. It is a stunning work of art and yet it's about nothing in particular. It manages to be entertaining without a plot. It is about everything – the whole human experience – while appearing to be about nothing, on the surface. It can be viewed in different cultural contexts and time frames, re-interpreted, discussed and quoted. I like to quote it, although I haven't met anyone that got the reference yet, but I have a great affinity for Danish humor. Growing up in a German-speaking area, I can see many similarities in the language and culture – I am always fascinated with the typically Scandinavian quirks.


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