A Cross of Old and New: A Reflection on The Five Obstructions

Late 20th century European cinema has shown me films in many art forms which I never would’ve expected coming from the familiarity of Hollywood cinema. The past few films in class showed me different takes on both the story and the execution of the film, often times playing and messing with many common tricks in the way a film is expected to be. This art movement in Europe experimented with many elements which brought forth many filmmakers who have made their mark in the history of film. To end this era, however, was a step forward to modern European cinema which of course still have remnants of its previous craft. Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth’s The Five Obstructions is a cross between these two eras, having both elements of experimental art cinema and the modern-day style of documentary film.

I feel as though the two known directors of this film represent the two times in European cinema, with Leth as the man of the past and von Tier as the modern man. My observation was that through von Tier’s obstruction, Leth was able to explore a kind of cinema that is still discovering. Five very different variations of Leth’s The Perfect Human was produced out of von Tier’s obstructions, yet all of this is from Leth’s own conceptualization and understanding of the set rules. He was able to explore deeply into what was asked of him and oftentimes have to go against conventions that he has been comfortable with. For example, he expressed his displeasure with cartoons, yet was able to go beyond this discomfort and produce something that is still very Leth-esque. Much like many filmmakers in the old European art cinema, Leth went against common executions of narratives in film, almost as if creating his own style. Similar to this, some of the films we have watched offer unconventional ways of storytelling, which I perceived to be “never before seen.”

Although I may refer to Europe’s art cinema as old, it can’t be denied that a lot of the techniques in producing such films were pretty new at that time. Although these forms may not be considered modern today, maybe those in their time upon the film’s creation believed that such films will lead to a different kind of modern cinema. Leth’s use of common modern techniques showed us that it can still change and could potentially lead us into a new realm of cinema; one that Hollywood has never even touched on yet. And this for me is where von Tier’s role comes in; as the man who pushes for the new. His obstructions may have been very difficult for Leth, however it was because of these prompts that Leth was able to produce such films. Von Tier forces the filmmaker to go beyond himself to produce films that would define a new era for cinema. This for me is what modern is; it is something that goes beyond the limitations of the past and creates its own, new interpretation of what it represents and what is beyond itself. The Five Obstructions, being a documentary shows us a new format of film where one can watch the old style of European art cinema unfold through modern-day techniques.

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