The Five Obstructions by Lars von Trier & Jørgen Leth

What makes a mentor? A teacher? An ‘idolized figure’? What makes art artistic?

The movie The Five Obstructions gives us a deep look and understanding of a mentor and mentee relationship. The story begins with Lars von Trier asking his friend and mentor Jørgen Leth to recreate and imagine Leth’s famous short, The Perfect Human in von Trier’s terms creating five obstructions that he must have to comply with. The beginning was all fun and games, von Trier giving the most random yet somehow meticulous instructions such as filming the scene in Cuba or make it into a cartoon. The different obstructions were unique in its own way as the film split between showing scenes from the original shirt film The Perfect Human with the new creations that Leth has created. All very weird that I may not be too much of an intellectual to understand but I’d like to think that this was created just for art. So in that case it was merely art for art’s sake. It made me want to watch The Perfect Human by its own without any cuts because I wanted to see how it actually flowed. To at least try and understand the true basis from where the documentary and von Trier’s obstructions were coming from. Would it have been a difference? Would it have changed my perception of the documentary itself if I had watched it before The Five Obstructions? All these obstructions made me question what truly is art and how it is made. Did The Perfect Human become more special or unique with these obstructions or should it have been left alone and let the short film speak for itself?

But what really struck me was the fifth and final obstruction. How it felt as if von Trier was actually the mentor in all this and Leth the mentee. In the beginning it was clear to me that von Trier is technically the mastermind in all this. When Leth had made a mistake in one of the obstructions, von Trier insisted that he must go back and do it again. During the documentary I felt as if their relationship although friendly on the outside, there was a strained relationship between them. I felt there were times that Leth did not want to do it yet von Trier kept insisting and so Leth did it. They did not really give any context as to why they did this experiment in the first place so for me it made it all more confusing because there weren’t any great incentives to what Leth was doing for von Trier.

At the end, I think the real take away I got from the documentary is that these mentors, the people that we look up to and idolize do not always have the answers to everything. We learn through them and with them as well. Sometimes these students can also give outputs and ideas that turn out to be better and there is nothing wrong with that. They have created their own masterpieces with the help of their own mentors but can also speak for itself.

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