September 24, 2004

The Five Obstructions

Directed by Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier

Directed by Martin Tsai

Danish provocateur Lars von Trier has achieved notoriety for two reasons. Thematically, he has created some of cinema’s most memorable martyrs and subjected them to the cruelest of ordeals in his gut-wrenching epics. Stylistically, he has formulated the influential Dogme 95 manifesto that imposes strict filmmaking rules. In The Five Obstructions, von Trier does a variation on both with devious glee.

He persecutes mentor Jørgen Leth into remaking Leth’s 1967 short The Perfect Human with seemingly impossible restrictions – such as no shot exceeding half a second. Believing this will be a therapeutic experience for his hero, von Trier encourages Leth to make crap. Much to von Trier’s dismay, Leth rises to the challenge. To finally render Leth powerless, von Trier makes his own “obstruction” then credits Leth as director.

The exercise proves that artificial limitations actually inspire filmmakers to creatively express the same ideas using different means. A testament to Leth’s talent, the various Perfect Human updates are as witty and enthralling as the original. In a year flooded by uninspired remakes (Dawn of the Dead, Around the World in 80 Days, The Stepford Wives, The Manchurian Candidate, Alfie, et al), it’s refreshing to see someone thinking outside the box.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.