The Five Obstructions: Five Too Many

So the movie as a whole was technically one “cohesive” movie, but it played more like an anthology piece. Let me explain…

Alright, just a little background, an anthology is a compilation of different works. So when I say that The Five Obstructions plays more like an anthology piece, it just means that they all seem like they are completely different from one another. The “they” that I’m talking about is each short film that is created within the movie. The five obstructions represent actual obstructions that are put in front of the director (Jorgen Leth) of a famous experimental film called “The Perfect Human”, who is tasked by another director (Lars von Trier) who is a fan of Leth, to recreate his film given the different obstructions. The film as a whole is a documentary on how Leth is able to work around the obstructions that are presented to him. The five obstructions are: 1. Leth must remake the film in Cuba, with no set, and with no shot lasting longer than twelve frames, and he must answer the questions posed in the original film; 2. Leth must remake the film in the worst place in the world but not show that place onscreen; additionally, Leth must himself play the role of “the man”. The meal must be included, but the woman is not to be included. Leth remakes the film in the red light district of Mumbai, only partially hiding it behind a translucent screen; 3. Leth failed to complete the second task perfectly, von Trier punishes him, telling him to either remake the film in any way he chooses, or else to repeat it again with the second obstruction in Mumbai. Leth chooses the first option and remakes the film in Brussels, using split-screen effects; 4. Leth must remake the film as a cartoon. He gets aid from Bob Sabiston, an animator, who creates animated versions of shots from the previous films; 5. The fifth obstruction is that von Trier has already made the fifth version, but it must be credited as Leth’s, and Leth must read a voice-over narration supposedly from his own perspective but was actually written by von Trier.

The entire movie plays each version of “The Perfect Human”, as if it’s a different movie while trying to keep some things together such as the two directors working together. I think it would have been more interesting to watch to see a movie wherein the “student”, Trier, is learning directly from the “old master, who still has a few things up their sleeve” in Leth. It would have made for a more cohesive movie, at least for me.

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