The Five Obstructions Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier

Process, process, process. This could be the mantra for Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, who has messed with process repeatedly throughout his career, whether via the rules of Dogme 95 or the obstacles he puts in front of his own creativity, like the set-less Dogville. His goal is to peel the layers of the creative process, and as such, he's not so much interested in good art as he is the ambitious failure. In The Five Obstructions, he takes his mentor, filmmaker Jørgen Leth, on a von Trier trip through his own work. In 1967, Leth directed a beautiful, simple minimalist short film called The Perfect Human. In this film, a documentary of von Trier's experiment, Leth is challenged to remake The Perfect Human five different times, five different ways, all adhering to the various "limitations" that von Trier outlines. Von Trier's goal is actually to unnerve his hero, to take him out of a distanced comfort zone in which the director has always worked, and so the challenges are specific to Leth's own weaknesses: both Leth and von Trier hate cartoons, so of course at least one of the Five Obstructions films must be animated. Leth seeks in his work to maintain a certain cool, detached demeanour as a director, so of course he must star as the perfect human in one version. Not all the challenges are personal; some are more technical. In the first version, von Trier insists that Leth not use a single edit longer than 12 frames — film runs at 24 frames per second, so that means the entire film must be constructed from half-second cuts. The Five Obstructions calls into question how much of a film geek you really are — and how in tune you are with von Trier's desire to see Leth fail. "You're too good," von Trier berates his hero at one point. "I want the next one to be crap!" Of course, none of the resulting Five Obstructions films is crap: each is beautiful, elegant, fascinating and a wonder to behold. If anything, the weakness of this documentary experiment — and of its DVD reissue — is that it doesn't include the complete versions of all five "new" films, only the complete version of the original film, The Perfect Human. Plus: commentary by Leth. (Koch)