The Five Obstructions is a documentary showing the director Jorgen Leth faced with five peculiar challenges in film-making. Jorgen Leth was tasked to recreate his 1968 film, The Perfect Man in different styles and creative instructions determined by his fellow director Lars von Trier. These instructions ranged from keeping each shot 12 frames, having a particular background or backdrop in the scene, to even a fully animated recreation of The Perfect Man. This task of creating new renditions of his older film gave Jorgen Leth a personal drive to show off his caliber and talent in creating film and screenplay, as well as proving himself to be capable in Lars von Trier’s eyes. This film went to show the experiences, joys, and frustrations of creating art through film.
The story follows Jorgen’s journey following the specific instructions given to him to how he will create a revision of his old film. Though challenging, he sees an interesting way of doing these challenges – which motivate him to push with these and create beautiful works of film to present to his peer Lars von Trier. What’s interesting, in my opinion, is how Jorgen undertakes this challenge (something that was created to be difficult and taxing to him and his filmmaking abilities) and still finds a way to create works of art that not only impresses us as the audience but the challenge-giver himself. Reviving a film from the 1960s with new contemporary ideas and perspectives, Jorgen can be a representative of the newer movement and approach to the slower and more arthouse style of European Cinema. This is shown in how despite the challenges he faced, Jorgen finds time to smile and find joy in his work as a director, actor, and storyteller in cinema – shown in the private shots where he talked endlessly about his plans for every obstruction. The Five Obstructions really shows that you can teach an old dog some new tricks, as the saying goes.
One of the obstructions given to Jorgen that piqued my interest was the (3) complete freedom or go back and redo challenge. It’s interesting to see how much of a challenge Jorgen saw in this challenge, even contemplating redoing his second film. The idea of complete freedom with absolutely no restriction, he thought, was a tough task, and I still am baffled to why he would think that. Does the ide of having certain limitations leave him with more material to work with, or is the idea of freedom a daunting gift (or curse)? In the end, I find it curious to see his work of creative freedom more difficult compared with the other tasks given to him.
This film feels like a callback to the older European films watched in our lectures, as the older concepts in the European film of when are given a new perspective or turn in Jorgen’s reviving of them. Given the challenge of not only recreating Jorgen’s old film of The Perfect Human but also added restrictions and obstructions onto its production, you would think these would create a lackluster film out of this aged director. Instead, we see how an aged and clever director finds a creative spin to not only meet the requirements given to him, but create a film that can stand on its own, producing a new approach to European cinema in general.