Monday, March 03, 2008

The Five Obstructions

Jørgen Leth assumes a Sisyphean task, as assigned by Lars Von Trier, and descends into a creative hell of his own choosing. Leth’s assignment: Remake his own short film “The Perfect Human” numerous times using various constraints dictated by filmmaker Lars Von Trier. Leth accepts the challenge and I had to wonder how two American filmmakers would handle a similar duel. It would be interesting to see Christopher Nolan go up against Tim Burton, for example. The sparring could most easily be compared to a game of chess, were it not that Leth seems nearly gleeful in some existential way in his knowledge that accepting the challenge means he is already the loser. Or do I mean winner? Somehow this acceptance riles Von Trier all the more as he realizes that Leth’s centeredness makes him nearly impenetrable and not the target that Von Trier hoped he would be. The final obstruction finds Von Trier in an attempt to “become” Leth, as he commands that the latter pronounce dialogue written for the “perfect human,” which we now realize is Leth (according to Von Trier, anyway.) If any, or all that, is confusing it won’t be after you watch the film. Interspersed throughout, Leth’s original 1967 short film, “The Perfect Human” perfectly underscores “The Five Obstructions,” which is the best documentary I’ve seen recently.

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