Worth A Look: 80%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%
3 reviews, 7 user ratings
|Five Obstructions, The
by Chris Parry
SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Lars von Trier is a brash, eccentric, egotistical maniac. This is quite apparent when you sit through The Five Obstructions, a filmmaking Survivor of sorts, where the Danish director challenges long time fellow director and devoted friend, Jorgen Leth, to jump through hoops remaking a short film he'd first shot in 1967. Von Trier will set five obstructions for Leth along the way, challenging Leth to keep up and create art regardless - five times - while secretly torturing the man in a secret mission to beat him out of a long depression. This is no Saturday afternoon matinee - this is 'Lars von Reality Show'.Imagine you're a respected filmmaker, having been plying your trade for nearly forty years, and the new kid on the block sets you a task. "Remake your short film, The Perfect Human," he says.
"Von Trier tortures a friend. Friend fights back with cinematic brilliance."
No problem. You've done it once, you should be able to do it again...
"But this time, make it so no edit is longer than 12 frames of film" - or half a second. Hmm.. suddenly the job is a little harder.
"And you can't use any sets." Geez.. but okay. Still doable.
"And you have to shoot it in Cuba." Uh.. Cuba?
Thus begins Obstruction #1 on Jorgen Leth's filmmaking stunt run, as he will be meet the challenges he has been set, and create an original and compelling short film. But the job isn't over. Now he has to do it again. Four more times to be exact, from Brussels to Haiti to the red light districts of India.
When he breaks a rule, Von Trier punishes him. When he doesn't break a rule, Von Trier still punishes him. As time wears on, it becomes clear that this was never a simple filmmaking challenge for the Dogme 95 auteur - there's a far more sinister motive behind all this. Though, surely, Von Trier thinks he's dishing out some tough love to his friend, the audience may be split as the director's seeming God complex makes him seem almost sadistic when he should be applauding brilliant filmmaking.
And there can be no question that Leth is a fantastic filmmaker. He proves it five times, making the same film in ways so different that a huge spotlight is shone directly on how lame Hollywood's remakes are. Battling obstructions that range from the humorous to the vicious, Leth doesn't just do enough to beat the obstacle in front of him, he beats it to a bloody pulp. It's a fantastic example of the talent that a seasoned filmmaker brings to the table, and the very same talent and originality that today's crash-cut MTV video generation of directors so completely lack.
One test that could have been put to Leth that I think would really have tested him, would have been to give him no budget. Von Trier thinks a little more chaotically than that, setting the ultimate punishment for his friend the heinous task of making a freestyle film with no obstacle. Remarkably, this seems to stress Leth more than any other obstruction.Not a film that I'd buy on DVD or recommend blindly to a wide audience, if you have an interest in filmmaking, or perhaps a desire to one day challenge the camera yourself, I'd strongly advise finding this film and studying it intensely. Good filmmakers come and go, but the great ones hide in Haiti.
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originally posted: 01/17/04 20:55:21
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