That Lars von Trier is a
master filmmaker is a distinct possibility. That he makes me profoundly uncomfortable from time to time and pisses me
off frequently is a fact. After watching The 5 Obstructions, it's becoming clear that von Trier might be
something of a sadist as well. This fantastic documentary is an intriguing look into the heads and perhaps hearts of
two accomplished filmmakers, von Trier himself and his "mentor," legendary Danish master Jørgen
Leth. von Trier has made a career of committing violent acts against his characters and subjecting them to
cruel and abusive situations and this film is no exception, except that this time the subject is a real person, one
who von Trier holds in particular reverence.
von Trier has come to Leth with a proposal that Leth re-make his 1967 film The Perfect Human, 5 times, each
with different rules devised by von Trier. Much like the Dogme 95 rules, these conditions serve to make the filmmaker
confront specific obstacles in order to complete the project, thereby making him think more deeply about his work. In
2000, von Trier presented this challenge to Leth and the elder filmmaker accepted, perhaps not really knowing how
many of the hoops he was about to jump through would have flaming grease fires on the other side.
The first Obstruction takes place in Cuba, and
among the rules presented to Leth are that he must use only non-professional actors and no cut may be longer than 12
frames. That is, 1/2 a second! Shot in Havana, the film actually turns out to be a pretty fantastic bit of
experimental cinema, one that von Trier seems genuinely happy with. However, the task of making the next film in "the
worst place on Earth" proves to be more daunting for Leth who, while making the film in a slum in Mumbai, violates
one of the rules set by von Trier, which was that the people inhabiting said pace not be seen on film.
The other films, most notably an animated film by Bob Sabiston (Waking Life), are just as
intriguing as the first two and the interaction between the two filmmakers grows more complex and personal. At times
you feel sorry for what Leth is going through and at other times his stature as one of Denmark's most revered
filmmakers enables him to rise to the occasion and defeat von Trier's sadism.
Photos: An image of Leth shaving from Sabiston's animated Obstruction; Claus Nissen as The Perfect Human in the 1967