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The Three-And-A-Half Obstructions.


M. Dale Prins
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PS Dale, I didn't see my Christmas present, I hope it didn't get lost in the UPS.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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stef wrote:

: I never got hung up about the fact that TPH wasn't shown in its entirety. I guess I

: thought it'd either be easy to find (it turns out it is not), or I thought it'd be a part

: of The five Obstructions DVD release (it turns out that it is). The thing that

: frustrated me about TFO's release is that several of Leth's films are not seen

: from start to finish in Von Trier's film, and this is quite sad, for they seem very

: good. But we only get snippets. I thought that the DVD release would at least

: allow us to see these shorts from start to finish as extras. It doesn't.

What he said.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Hmm.  Were there nude scenes in Leth's film?  I can't remember, to be honest. 

There's an overhead shot of the man in The Perfect Human, lying next to a woman in bed. The narrator then says, "This is the man. This is the man making love," or something like that, at which point the man rolls on top of the woman (under the sheet) and they begin kissing. He then nuzzles into the woman's armpit, which I thought was kind of strange. But hey, this is Europe... tongue.gif

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 3 weeks later...

I just this this yesterday and enjoyed it. Count me in as one of those that loved the animated film.

Someone asked about Leth being depressed or something, and I thought that was pretty important details the film didn't really go into. Does anyone know what or how the arrangments for the film were made?

Are there any interpretations of the original Perfect Human and the remakes?

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  • 1 year later...

Funny how my feelings for Von Trier's work sway back and forth from viewing to viewing.

I loved this film the first time I saw it. Today, watching it again, I was similarly inspired by the way creativity flourishes within restraints.

But Film #3 really got to me this time. Leth gamely heads into the Red Light district and accepts Von Trier's request to put his ethics to the test. He films himself having an exquisite meal in the presence of needy children, desperate women, and some of the filthiest conditions in the world.

I keep asking myself: Am I watching something truly obscene?

Or is this short film really a work of art meant to challenge us to consider the obscenity of the imbalance of wealth in the world?

Are they purposefully crafting a meaningful metaphor? Or just laughing at their own audacity?

Leth admits to feeling like he's made a Faustian bargain in this project, killing off a bit of his soul in order to meet Von Trier's challenge. And today, I had to agree that this is what I was watching.

Anybody else feel uneasy watching this episode? Is this a stroke of Von Trier genius, or more evidence of his depravity?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Anybody else feel uneasy watching this episode? Is this a stroke of Von Trier genius, or more evidence of his depravity?

After watching Breaking the Waves I was struck by this question: Must we be subjected to brutality of the truth before we really recognize what it is? I've seen three Von Trier films, this one, BTW, and Dogville. All three I considered powerful because of what he is saying through the films, yet I don't really want to see them again. I don't know if his motive is to just push limits and make us squirm or if he is really, truly shoving the truth in our face and forcing us to deal with what can be so easily dismissed.

I would like to say it's a stroke of genius because the images are powerful but I don't know the man well enough. This does beg the question, if the motives aren't pure can the interpretation surpass the initial intent?

"Did you mention, perhaps, what line of industrial lubricants Jesus would have endorsed?"

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  • 3 years later...

Having added The Five Obstructions to my Top 9 Films of the Decade (so far), and having wondered over time whether this and, say, Tarnation, may be a mistake on the list -- and I'm still struggling with this, but am glad I only listed nine so far and am willing to change the list as I go -- I decided to revisit both The Perfect Human and The Five Obstructions for a fair shake at whether they'll remain.

A good deal of respected friends here put it at the bottom of Lars von Trier's pile of films. At the very least, whether it makes my Top 10 of the Decade or not, I think a better case can be made for it.

The two things we instinctually know about von Trier from the past fifteen years of his career are that he:

1. Loves to grapple with, confine himself to, constrain others within, and break RULES, or perhaps for our purposes, LAW.

2. Loves to grapple with, push the limits on, abuse, neglect, isolate, and ponder the mysteries of GRACE.

These are not simply rules that LvT loves to wrench himself over. Our little board loves to strain ourselves over these principles with constant, unending reflection. These ideas are more than just one Dane's idea of what matter to him in pushing himself (and no doubt the audience's abilities to endure). Anyone on a so-called "spiritual" quest in art, film, story-telling is going to encounter these time and again.

There are certain artists that have paved the way -- whether we like the chosen path or not -- to fully marvel at and struggle against these themes. In my mind, LvT is one of the greatest.

Before I address The Five Obstructions then, let's make a very brief list on when and where von Trier has wrestled with these notions.

1. RULES or LAW. He and his friends, and eventually hundreds from around the world, chose to confine themselves to a set of rules in the Dogme 95 manifesto. Lars specifically did this in The Idiots. Filmmakers were even encouraged to make a list of confessions for the places in which they broke these rules. I admittedly have a soft spot here; everyone at A&F knows this is probably my favorite moment in cinema history. The idea of constraining himself to a set of rules later extended itself to The Boss of it All, in which LvT subjected himself to the "rules" of Automavision, where a fixed camera position and computer allowed what would be filmed. The idea of constraining others to a set of rules later extended itself to both The Five Obstructions and The Advance Party.

As an aside -- the accusations made, and that I've even joked at, regarding von Trier's sadism, are lacking, in light of the fact that he is interested more in the binding process, whether it be of himself or of others.

2. GRACE. This is more obvious for A&Fers (I still love that term, heh). We've done this to death: Breaking The Waves, Dogville, Antichrist, etc. I don't think I need to belabor the point.

In The Five Obstructions then, we have the culmination of all these ideas, and in its documentary style approach it is easier to grasp than in the other story-told films.

Twitch said:

I view it more as a character study of Von Trier himself than anything else. If you want to get a grip on the psychology behind the Dogme movement, this is you rbest shot, because Von Trier's whole mission here is to break down Leith the way the Dogme directors intentionally broke themselves down ... it's very valuable on that front alone.

I now disagree with (most) of this. The fifth obstruction shows us how much LvT loves Leth's work, and more than that, loves Leth. He loved him as a filmmaker, he loved him as a mentor, and now -- "This is how the perfect human falls." -- he loves him simply as a good man. In the fifth obstruction Lars says that he wants to find a completion to the project in a circular path. This he doesn't do. Whereas one could perceive obstructions one and two more in the lines of what we might call "sadistic," by the time we've gotten to obstruction five, we clearly see admiration, respect, love. This is the grace afforded to Leth in The Five Obstructions. Leth gets to see, from one who constantly hides emotion behind the lens, the heart and the love of a peer.

(Jeffrey Overstreet @ Mar 18 2006, 07:14 PM)

Anybody else feel uneasy watching this episode? Is this a stroke of Von Trier genius, or more evidence of his depravity?

After watching Breaking the Waves I was struck by this question: Must we be subjected to brutality of the truth before we really recognize what it is? I've seen three Von Trier films, this one, BTW, and Dogville. All three I considered powerful because of what he is saying through the films, yet I don't really want to see them again. I don't know if his motive is to just push limits and make us squirm or if he is really, truly shoving the truth in our face and forcing us to deal with what can be so easily dismissed.

I would like to say it's a stroke of genius because the images are powerful but I don't know the man well enough. This does beg the question, if the motives aren't pure can the interpretation surpass the initial intent?

I think you are both putting too much emphasis on the director's expectations of the audience. We know that von Trier is an expressionist. We know that he hammers out his own turmoil in film. We know that he wants the audience to experience his probing along with him. But I think he cares less about where the audience is going as long as he gets to hammer away. The truth is that there are enough fans (like me) out there for Lars to continue his efforts without worrying about whether the audience is agitated with him or not. Call it selfish, I don't think it is. It is no more selfish than a man who works at an office to put food on the table for his kids. This is his life, this is his path, these are his works, and he will continue them and make them available to the public as such. If the audience doesn't want it anymore, they will leave. At that point he will no doubt continue to make the films for himself.

At this point I think The Five Obstructions will stay on my list. I can think of no other work from the last decade that addresses our spiritual concerns regarding the law and grace so blatanly -- except for maybe Dogville.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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  • 10 months later...

I'm not familiar with Leth's other material, but this entry on Leth's new film Erotic Man makes me hesitant to use The Five Obstructions in film seminars in the future. I love what Obstructions has to offer, but I'm not sure I want to present Leth as if he's a talent worth investigating.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I'm going to go ahead and reprint it here.

Erotic Man (Jørgen Leth, Denmark) [4]

Or, Jørgen Leth Plants His Tentpole In Developing World Pussy, Then Stares Wistfully Out the Hotel Window. What at first promised, then virtually threatened, to be a diaristic project based on the filmmaker’s own self-exposure and interrogation of his own desires and aging turned out to be, well, something very different. Erotic Man essentially finds Leth traveling to Haiti, Senegal, Panama, Brazil, and elsewhere, auditioning and then filming nubile 20-something women lounging naked in hotel rooms, zeroing in on their succulent breasts and asses. He labels them by name and nationality, not unlike a Playboy “Women of the Colonies” Video Pictorial. Occasionally they speak a prepared text. One woman, Dorothie from Haiti, is Leth’s young girlfriend and tends to provide more backtalk than the others, but Erotic Man recovers from this empowerment by including Leth’s first-person video of screwing Dorothie as she begs for more. (No joke.) I don’t want to throw Laura Mulvey criticism at every image of a naked lady that appears on a movie screen, and I certainly want to reserve a space for frank expressions of heterosexual male desire. But because Leth is so blinkered by his own privilege, he can’t see that his ruminations about his globetrotting sex life sound like white spunk-transmitted conquest. “I wonder if a one time love affair can be as significant as a relationship of many years?” he asks. “I remember many of them just as well.” (Cue “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”) Here’s a fact that pretty much sums up the attitude of Erotic Man. It includes several scenes marked, “Haiti 2009,” and the film contains not one indication that, you know, anything significant has happened in Haiti recently, other than old Jørgen dipping his wick once again.

This is highly disappointing. It's actually put me in a rather bad mood. Kinda like learning about Zentropa and their dark side.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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  • 1 year later...

Here's my piece on The Five Obstructions, which I included in my film seminar at the Glen Workshop last month.

Can we please retitle this thread with the actual name of the movie?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Overstreet wrote:

: Can we please retitle this thread with the actual name of the movie?

Oh, but then we'd have to lose the subtitle, too. And we'd lose the actual point that M. Dale made when he started this thread. Best to leave it alone, methinks.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Overstreet wrote:

: So, this is an acceptable precedent, then, that we don't have to title a film-related thread with the name of the film? Okay. I'll keep that in mind.

No, the precedent here is that threads from the earlier, wilder days of the board can and/or should be "grandfathered" into the board in their current form, provided that the thread titles are basically understandable -- as this one is, given that it still has the search-able term "Obstructions" in the title. (And this precedent was set on many, many other threads, before this one got revived.) This is not a license to make things confusing on newer threads.

(As coincidence would have it, just the other day I found a thread that I had started nearly a decade ago, and some administrator had edited my introductory post to add a "message" to the subheading that was not, in fact, a message that I was trying to send. I have toyed with re-editing the introductory post to take that "message" out, but we'll see.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 3 years later...

Scott Esposito:

 

If you watch Lars’s films, you’ll see that he loves the idea of ruining oneself as a way to understand one’s demons. Lars himself has been in and out of therapy for years. At least since his second film, 1987’s Epidemic, he’s explicitly said he makes films to cure his depression, and virtually everything since could be considered as a very brutal kind of autopsychoanalysis. Lars knows he’ll never be a normal, moderately happy human, so he makes a farce of the pursuit for normalcy. Almost as a challenge, in each film he bears right down on the banal, and inevitably he always ends up swerving into the sublime. This is Lars’s particular genius as a filmmaker, and this is precisely what he plans on The Five Obstructions being for Jørgen. The very perfection of Jørgen’s art is hurting Jørgen—the only way to help him is to force him to ruin it.
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