Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Five Obstructions

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

The Five Obstructions (326)


  • current (please delete Time of the Wolf)
  • a-z as F (Five) and F (Fem)
  • page : fiveobstructions.html

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THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS 6/10

De fem benspaend : Denmark (Den/Switz/Bel/Fr) 2003 : Jorgen LETH and Lars von TRIER : 90 mins

Though barely known over here, Leths mock-anthropological short The Perfect Human (1967) has many admirers in his native Denmark, including Lars (Boom Boom) von Trier – who claims to have seen it twenty times (translation: he’s seen it maybe once).

One idle day in his busy schedule (in between trying to edit sense into Dogville and/or preparing for his looming 2006 Bayreuth debacle) von Trier thought it would be jolly fun to ask his hero if he’d mind remaking The Perfect Human five times as therapy. On each occasion Leth was faced with certain obstructions stipulated by von Trier. Starting with – an edict – that – Leth – could – only – use – 12 – frames – per shot – and that he must – shoot – in – Cuba.

This resulting feature (a four-nation coproduction, no less!) consists of: (1) tantalising clips from the original version. (2) Even more tantalising clipse from the five remakes. (3) Not-so-tantalising extracts from the filming process (we spend an eternity following Leth when he gets lost in a hotel). (4) Even less tantalising playful/needling/mutual-appreciation-society conversations between L.v.T and J.L.

Though undeniably (and commendably) unlike anything else well see on general release this year, Five Obstructions is seldom anywhere near as much fun as it should be. In artistic/creative terms, meanwhile, seeing only brief fragments from the six different Perfect Humans means were unable to judge Leths success or failure. Its no coincidence that the Cuba/12 frames version which we see most of – is also the most effective/entertaining/clever.

As ever with anything von Trier-related, however, the overriding impression that is the audience is supposedly being invited into – but in fact being firmly excluded from – some hilarious pseudo-intellectual, utterly pointless, post-modern private joke. Actually, not quite pointless. Thanks to The Five Obstructions, viewers will now be aware that it isn’t done to serve caviar using metal cutlery: what you need, apparently, is a bone spoon. Cheers, Lars.

Neil Young

25th December, 2003 (seen on VHS, Sunderland, 23rd December 2003 – 3rd January 2004)

PS – the last shot is fantastic


by Neil Young