The Five Derivatives

The Five Obstructions (d. Lars Von Trier, Jorgen Leith; 2003)

In all honesty, the film The Five Obstructions was probably the only movie so far that I’ve seen in this class that I did not enjoy. Part of this was because I felt the film was too redundant, and another was because I felt the film was too self-indulgent for its own good.

Maybe another is that I am not a fan of Director Lars von Trier. The films of Von Trier that I have seen feel like it’s too much pandering for art for the sake of art or for something to force a message. Von Trier’s style is really just not for me, and while this specific film does not have any graphic violence or dark themes, rather it is a more straightforward look into what makes a film, I found it to be just too slow and uninteresting.

The film’s basic plotline is Von Trier challenging fellow director Jorgen Leth to remake his short film entitled The Perfect Human. The titular ‘five obstructions’ come in the form of challenges Von Trier imposes on Leth. These include remaking the film in Cuba with a forced frame limit for each cut, remaking the film in “the most lonely place in the world”, and animating the film. Leth takes on each challenge in a unique way – he films in Cuba and makes the framerate challenge work by taking on hyperspeed editing, he films in India by having a near-transparent screen, and he finds an animator to help bring his vision to life.

In my opinion, while the first version of the film was very interesting (and honestly really well-made – despite the messy and frantic editing the basic gist of the short film was still faithfully translated), the rest of the film just does not live up, despite the clear quality of the craft on display.

I think the main scene that I also have a hard time with the film is when Von Trier and Leith talk about animation in a negative way and deride it. I really just found this entire conversation pretentious and condescending, especially since they were so dead set on knowing that as long as its animated “its going to be crap”. Considering the value animation has (it is a medium where the impossible is possible, it is a world where non-realism can prevail) to cinema as a whole, I found both Von Trier and Leith’s comments very disrespectful and close-minded as directors.

Furthermore, the movie seems to be aimless. While the central conceit is interesting in seeing five different versions of a short film, what the structure of the film means is that by seeing five different versions, even though they are different aesthetically, the inner message is still the same, which leads to very very monotonous viewing. I felt that while the movie-making parts of each obstruction had their own merits, the actual showing of the obstructions felt very very slow. This is why despite the movie not even being 100 minutes long, it feels like it went on for even longer than that.

Overall, there is no denying that there is a lot of talent and craft that went into the film from both Von Trier and Leth’s perspectives. Von Trier for attempting to make something new out of a documentary framework and Leth for showing the different facets of filmmaking, particularly how a story can be told in multiple ways. However, it is really just not for me.

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