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"The Five Obstructions", a 100 min. Dano-Belgian theatre documentary directed by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth. An investigative journey into the phenomenon of "documentary", based on manifestos written by each director. About a filmmaker not only revisiting, but also recreating (not in a conventional sense) one of his first films, The Perfect Human / Det perfekte menneske (1967), a document on life in Denmark, containing the familiar Leth idiosyncrasies.Written by
Sounds fascinating but is mostly a pompous affair with an attitude of distain for the uninitiated audience
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.
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