Directed by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth featuring themselves, The Five Obstructions (De fem benspænd) is a 100 minute Dano-Belgian theatre documentary showcasing the creative processes and challenges in revisiting Jørgen Leth’s 1968 film,The Perfect Human (Det perfekte menneske) and remaking it into through sets of rules given by Lars von Tier.
After becoming exposed to some European films from the ‘60s, The Five Obstructions felt weird and foreign for me. It might just be the film, but out of the films we have watched as of now, The Five Obstructions was the least dramatic. This may be because of the theme of the film, which may be about cinematic creativity, or because what are shown in the film are not completely fictional, as compared to the films we have watched beforehand. That is, The Five Obstructions focuses on may be the challenges that film makers and directors go through in creating and editing films — there were not any romantic dramas, personality-crises, and complex cinematography that aim to convey a creative and dramatic plotline and theme for its audience and the film somewhat conveys a candid setting through its documentary-like cinematography.
Furthermore, with the five obstructions, it seems like what Lars von Trier is making Jorgen Leth do is create a perfect human that seems to showcase the personality of the films director, which is Leth. With that said, if von Trier wanted to see Leth in the film — or at least his personality in his own creation, would that mean that von Trier wanted to show that Leth can be one of those “perfect humans”?
Moreover, with the five obstructions that are seemingly the focus of the film, the idea of The Perfect Human showcasing how a “perfect human” is and how he/she lives seems far-fetched. This is because, if the “perfect human” really is so perfect, why would they want to recreate it? Although Lars von Trier once stated in the film that the first version of The Perfect Human would always be the best version, that does not mean that it was perfect. The five obstructions consisted of changes in the film’s location, editing, focus, actors, script, and cinematic style. With this, it may have been because von Tier was trying to make the idea of the perfect human more humane and diversified. The first obstruction required the film’s location to be in Cuba, where the characters looked widely different than the original’s Klaus Nissen and Makjen Nielsen. The second obstruction required Leth to play the “perfect man” in Mumbai. The third, because Leth failed the pervious task, made Leth recreate the film in Brussel, showcasing a more contemporary theme. The fourth required the film to be a cartoon — which turned into a colorful animation, much to both von Trier and Leth’s liking, and the fifth was recreated by von Trier himself, voice-overed by Leth with von Trier’s narration. With these obstructions, it seems (to me) that, from the original The Perfect Human, which consisted of bland narratives and a white background throught the film, von Trier used the obstructions to create the “perfect human” in different environment that, unlike the original film, are realistic, lively, and more relatable.
Overall, The Five Obstructions explored the cinematic possibilities that directors can create as well as showcase that, maybe, the perfect human may not be supposedly perfect. Rather, the perfect human, as diversified as our understandings are about perfection because of the different cultures around the world, may be different for every one of us because of our differences in preferences and in cultures.