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Koch Lorber presents
The Five Obstructions (De Fem benspænd) (2003)

“My plan is to proceed from the perfect to the human, right? That’s my agenda...I want to ‘banalize’ you.”
- Lars von Trier

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: October 04, 2004

Stars: Jørgen Leth, Lars von Trier
Other Stars: Claus Nissen, Maiken Algren, Daniel Hernández Rodríguez, Jacqueline Arenal, Vivan Rosa, Patrick Bauchau, Alexandra Vandernoot
Director: Jørgen Leth, Lars von Trier

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity, language and sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:27m:17s
Release Date: October 05, 2004
UPC: 741952303497
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In some circles, Lars von Trier is a pretentious, self-involved sadist with delusions of grandeur. In others, he is a cinematic genius of the highest order, bound to be one of the defining directors of our time—opinions tend to be polarized, falling into one of these two camps. I take more of a tertium quid on the matter, believing his ego contributes to his unique re-definitions of cinema, given the confrontative premise of The Five Obstructions, a side of von Trier I did not expect to see emerged: he is a compassionate, caring individual, albeit in a most unconventional way. Appropriately, he offers a very unconventional film to testify to this, manifesting his life in his art.

Jorgen Leth is one of von Trier's idols. He clearly worships the man and his work, especially a short film entitled The Perfect Human, circa 1967. A bit more aged than his counterpart that produced the Beatles-hued black-and-white art film, Leth seems to be lacking in creative energy on the surface. Fatigue is set in on his face. Von Trier realizes this, seeing his good friend on the brink; the two are affable and have great respect for one another. It is later revealed that Leth has been battling with depression, isolating himself in his home on the island of Haiti. In steps "Dr." von Trier, with his own twisted prescriptions.

Lars challenges Jørgen to re-make The Perfect Human five times, each time with a new set of "obstructions," or rules dictated by von Trier. These stipulations border on complete sadistic absurdity. Case in point, Obstruction #1: Each shot can be no longer than 12 frames; it must be shot in Cuba; no set is allowed. Von Trier dishes these restrictions in a casual, arbitrary fashion, picking Cuba simply because Leth was discussing his affinity for the country's fine cigars. And so it goes: Jørgen is off around the world to rediscover his film. Between each iteration is a meeting with the savage taskmaster von Trier, who comments on his pleasure and displeasure at the final results.

The films vary in tone and quality, testing the patience and creative stamina of Leth, who becomes immersed and inspired by the restrictions. He is tortured when one obstruction demands a completely free style; Leth has become accustomed to the claustrophobia of the format, similar to the creative effects that rippled from von Trier’s Dogme 95 movement. One version borders on perversion: in Bombay, a place of dark, personal pain for Leth, The Perfect Human finds its place in a busy market street. Jørgen plays the lead, eating an opulent dinner before a backdrop of emaciated Indian faces, who watch this bourgeois spectacle with chuckles and disdain; it's an odd, disturbing juxtaposition that brings a complexity that enthralls.

Indeed, this film is about a complexity of themes, found within the unique combination of documentary footage and Jørgen's films; this is a kind of "reality" film for film buffs. Leth's self-consciously arty original seems to grow and expand in substance with each new incarnation, but the heart of the piece lies in the final segment, which captures the essence and purpose behind the interactions between the pair: cinema becomes therapy, and this process ultimately reveals the humanity within the perfect human—Jørgen Leth. What is the perfect human? Does the term human not imply fallacies and imperfections? Is that not what it is to be human, should this not be embraced? Faith, art, friendship, and humanity merge to answer these important questions.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Picture quality varies due the use of a variety of formats. The documentary segments are shot on digital video, while the original The Perfect Human and its progeny are sourced from various film stocks. The image is very good across the board, with the video showing a level of expected noise, and the film segments showing good detail, contrast and color saturation. Despite some slight edge enhancement, this is a fine image.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Danish & Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Danish/English Dolby 2.0 audio does trip ProLogic on my receiver, but surround fill is minimal. Dialogue and music are clear. Recording quality varies between sources, but everything here is perfectly serviceable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
0 Other Trailer(s) featuring La Dolce vita, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jesus of Montreal, The Decline of the American Empire, In July, Pigalle, Sister My Sister
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jørgen Leth
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Jørgen Leth's 1967 short film The Perfect Human
Extras Review: The main feature is an audio commentary by Jørgen Leth in English. The director's contributions are somewhat sparse, but he offers some worthy comments on what must have been a taxing, yet strangely liberating experience.

The disc contains the complete, original The Perfect Human (1967, 12m:59s). There is also a slew of trailers (listed above) including the Danish and English trailers for The Five Obstructions.

Not a bad mix, though I do wish the complete cuts of Jørgen's various obstructed films were included.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Cinema becomes therapy in this off-beat brainchild of Lars von Trier. The Danish mastermind puts director Jørgen Leth through the ropes, forcing him to reconsider his art and his humanity. Koch Lorber's presentation does justice to a standout piece of reality filmmaking.


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