The Five Obstructions

Critics Consensus

Both an intriguing intellectual exercise and an amusing look at the contrasts between the two filmmakers.



Total Count: 60


Audience Score

User Ratings: 6,378
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Movie Info

Danish auteur Lars von Trier directs the documentary-of-sorts The Five Obstructions (De Fem Benspænd). In 2001, von Trier convinces veteran filmmaker Jørgen Leth to create five remakes of his 1967 short The Perfect Human. Calling himself the Obstructor, von Trier orders Leth to make his films in various parts of the world with extremely specific demands. For instance, the first film must be shot in Cuba with no set with only 12 frames per shot. The five remakes-within-the-film are "The Perfect Human: Bombay," "The Perfect Human: Brussels," "The Perfect Human: Cartoon," "The Perfect Human: Cuba," and "The Perfect Human: Avedøre, Denmark." Each has its own set of ridiculous limitations created by von Trier. The Five Obstructions was shown at the Sundance Film Festival as part of a special screening.


Lars von Trier
as Himself/Obstructor
Jørgen Leth
as Himself/The Man, The Man
Jacqueline Arenal
as The Perfect Woman
Vivian Rosa
as Woman 2
Patrick Bauchau
as The Man, The Perfect Man
Alexandra Vandernoot
as The Perfect Woman, The Woman
Maiken Algren
as The Woman
Claus Nissen
as The Man, The Perfect Man
Vivian Rosa
as Woman 2
Burt Christensen
as The Gangster
Marie Dejaer
as The Maid
Melanie Munt
as Body Double
Meschell Perez
as The Couple
Pascal Perez
as The Couple
Anders Hove
as The Naked Man
Charlotte Sieling
as The Naked Woman
Stina Ekblad
as The Woman With Money
View All

Critic Reviews for The Five Obstructions

All Critics (60) | Top Critics (18)

  • It's amusing only if you agree not to think very much about it.

    Sep 10, 2004 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • A film like this has a limited audience, I suppose, but for that audience it offers a rare fascination.

    Sep 10, 2004 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • For those who treasure not only watching the intricate challenges of filmmaking but also feeling the thrill of tomfoolery and sharing the demonic joy of psychological twists, Obstructions is enthralling.

    Sep 9, 2004 | Rating: A-
  • The relationship between the two filmmakers raises it above the category of academic experiment. Von Trier brings a diabolical glee to his role, and Leth matches it with an older, wiser brand of mischief.

    Jul 16, 2004 | Rating: 3/4
  • In this enjoyable if trivial battle between von Trier's psychodrama theatricality and Leth's cool formalism, it's ultimately the viewer who comes out the winner.

    Jun 17, 2004
  • Part of what hooks you to this movie is how Leth outsmarts his taskmaster, and how the two men have divergent, almost incompatible aesthetic ideals.

    Jun 11, 2004 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Five Obstructions

  • Oct 08, 2015
    The Five Obstructions is perfectly fine as a documentary. As with anything that has aspirations you will find those on either side that love or hate it. This is not a film that deserves such strong reactions. It is more like: let us try this challenge for fun and see if it comes out interesting. The Five Obstructions does come off as mildly interesting, especially for those who are interested in the creative process. It is not as good as a film as Hearts of Darkness but rather is at about the level of Lost in La Mancha. Really, it's fine.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • May 04, 2014
    One of the most unusual films I've ever seen. Lars von Trier challenges Jørgen Leth to create Leth's short film under five obstructions. The two film makers communicated through the making of the films. It's not the documentaries that you see every day. Once again, Lars von Trier amazed me with his amazing creativity. I am in awe.
    Sylvester K Super Reviewer
  • Nov 10, 2011
    The premise of "The Five Obstructions" suggests a pretentious egghead jerk-off but, surprisingly, this is one of director Lars Von Trier's most watchable films. Perhaps it's because his Danish comrade Jorgen Leth supplies so much of the content. In 1967, Leth directed a 13-minute short titled "The Perfect Human." It's a stark, colorless film where most action occurs within a shapeless, white void. There are just two onscreen actors. A man and a woman, drolly presented as the ultimate examples of our species, simulate various mundane behaviors while deadpan narrator Leth describes their activity. It's a film with a curious, aloof appeal that's difficult to articulate. Decades later, Von Trier tests his friend Leth to remake this short five times while obeying some perverse, arbitrary rules (or "obstructions"). Von Trier's apparent goal is to tear down the protective artifice of filmmaking and force Leth to "expose" himself. The stipulations include having no shot longer than 12 frames, Leth taking the lead role, filming in Cuba, filming in the most miserable location Leth knows (answer: a crowded Mumbai slum) and even making a cartoon (a form that both men openly detest). Von Trier is a notorious character with oft-observed sadistic tendencies and, indeed, there is something unsettling about his manner. His mix of cruel demands, polite demeanor and a tiny, crafty smile recalls Nazi stereotypes (regardless of his recent Hitler-related controversy). But the affectionate rapport between him and Leth is sweet. Also, the resulting five shorts are quite entertaining. "The Five Obstructions" is incredibly self-indulgent, but film nerds will enjoy this gentle battle of wits.
    Eric B Super Reviewer
  • Nov 17, 2010
    The penultimate film screened in the Lars von Trier course I took, this is a really fascinating, direct look at the obsession with mimicry and the simulacrum present in von Trier's previous work. It is, above all, a look at a supremely insecure auteur putting on a character with which to present his work to an expectant public, and the interface of that character with another director who seems wholly unconcerned with such frivolities. von Trier is as much a performer as the actors in the films he creates; his films cannot be comprehensively critically evaluated without looking at the singular creative force behind them, as auteur theory postulates. Here he turns the camera on himself, playing himself, playing an artist at odds with another artist, and the results are mind-boggling to say the least. We are meant to assume that he sees himself in Jorgen Leth in some capacity, especially as outlined by the final letter that he has Leth read, but more subtly in his attempts to "scar" Leth with the challenges he imposes upon him. Telling is von Trier's frustration when Leth rises to those challenges every single time. I think The Five Obstructions is valuable for how it reduces the concept of the auteur to a mere person, with his own foibles and defects. It doesn't necessarily divorce him from the art he creates; think of this somewhat as reality television for filmmakers, taking a pair of talented individuals and pitting them against each other in a series of challenges. The only catch here is that there is no reward, short of psychological fulfillment or defeat. Ultimately, the game is in von Trier's hands, and the way he plays it should hold considerable fascination for anyone interested in a thorough dissection of the personal process of filmmaking.
    Drew S Super Reviewer

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