The overall feel of Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth’s The Five Obstructions can simply be described as a peculiar yet fascinating experience. The film, shot in a pseudo-documentary style, primarily focuses on the mentor-mentee relationship between von Trier and Leth. The latter is the renowned filmmaker of a 13 minute short film entitled The Perfect Human (1968), which von Trier tasks him to remake a total of five times. In order to make things more interesting, von Trier also places certain limitations in each of Leth’s remaking of the movie consequently giving the film its name, The Five Obstructions.
The film immediately starts with Leth speaking to von Trier about the task of remaking he is about to undertake. The audience is left with little to no idea as to who these individuals are and what the reason for their actions is. The anonymity given to von Trier is what can lead the audience to see him as a despicable figure. Demanding and extremely inconsiderate of Leth, von Trier can be seen for the most part as a masochist who enjoys seeing Leth struggle and become frustrated with the limitations he has placed. Given this context, one is naturally drawn to root for Leth as he faces the endeavors contained in each of von Trier’s obstructions. Leth’s demeanor lends itself towards this as well since he can be seen as an earnest and hardworking individual, unquestioning and constantly putting up with whatever tricks von Trier comes up with.
What is greatly appreciated across the various challenges which is hurdled towards Leth is the undeniable talent that he possesses. Although bits of The Perfect Human are gradually shown to the audience, the transformation it undertakes with Leth at the helm is breathtaking. He injects new life to a the same film he had made years prior without losing its essence in the process. May it be a difference in editing or a complete overhaul of art style, as seen when he transformed it through animation, Leth is a capable director and his work stands as the very proof of this.
Eventually, as any individual subjected to what can be said to be torture, Leth snaps at von Trier due to his unreasonable demands and seemingly unending list of conditions. Leth decides to jump ship and let his creativity flow. He completely took the helm during the latter portions of the film and recreated the scenes with him having the last say.
What can be considered to be the climax of the film went hand-in-hand with von Trier revealing that his intention in constantly challenging Leth was to inspire him to create films once more. The last few minutes of the film were dedicated to showcasing the complete and compiled version of the reinterpretation of The Perfect Human alongside the motivational words of von Trier for Leth.
The Five Obstructions is definitely a meta film at the very core. A film placed within a film, alongside the pseudo-documentary style it utilized, the deep investment of emotions from the audience is decently rewarded. The endearing motive behind the vexing role which von Trier had to play makes the entire film feel rewarding as there is redemption for both von Trier and Leth.