Review: The 5 Obstructions

9 Aug

Jorgen Leth, the Danish filmmaker and poet, is most recognized in his home country for a film he created entitled, alluringly, The Perfect Human way back in 1967. His style is known mostly for its stilted and artificial settings and lighting. The Perfect Human fits very well with this. It is shot mostly in a completely lit white room with the camera focused solely on two characters––the perfect man and the perfect woman. Using his poetic skills to their fullest, Leth narrates with the objectifying voice of something equivalent to a scientific researcher. The movie opens with this monologue:

Trippy stuff I know. Thus is Danish experimental film. But the film I am reviewing for you now, The Five Obstructions, ratchets up the experimental quality of The Perfect Human. In the film, Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier challenges Leth to recreate The Perfect Human with various obstructions in the way of his natural filmmaking style. Leth’s films are most well known for their unbelievable artificiality and their sense of detachment and apathy in the narrator. So, of course, von Trier forces Leth to escape these artistic methods. First, he makes Leth reshoot the film in Cuba and use only 12 second cuts (making the film unbelievably choppy). Leth succeeds, but faces another set of obstructions, which I will not go into but will say that they become more and more sadistic, forcing Leth to do things he adamantly despises.

But what is most interesting about the film is von Trier’s repeated attempts to tell his true motivations for the obstructions. He equates each obstruction with a therapeutic tool used to help Leth artistically. And it is this idea that reminds me of one of my favorite aesthetic philosophies, that of John Dewey. In an essay entitled The Act of Expression, Dewey writes that the essence of artistic expression is the struggle between artistic impulsion and the medium chosen for conveying that impulsion:

“Impulsion forever boosted on its forward way would run its course thoughtless, and dead to emotion. For it would not have to give an account of itself in terms of the things it encounters, and hence they would not become significant objects. The only way it can become aware of its nature and its goal is by obstacles surmounted and means employed…” (Dewey)

Dewey here, and von Trier in The Five Obstructions, are both tapping into something I’ve thought long and hard about––that beauty in art, or meaning in expression comes out of the necessity of the expresser to both challenge and be challenged by his surroundings. It takes a special kind of courage and a special kind of mindset to truly come to terms with the friction this world offers us. And I must say that, in watching this film, I was inspired to keep scratching the surface with the new knowledge that the little specs and bits and pieces of debris that fly up will be all the better because of the scratching.

To end this review, here’s the trailer for The Five Obstructions. It’s available for streaming on Netflix.

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One Response to “Review: The 5 Obstructions”

  1. the Success Ladder August 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    Thank you very much for sharing this. I have subscribed to your RSS feed. Please keep up the good work.

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