5 March 09
The Perfect Human (1967)
Jørgen Leth, Dir.
At times, the best way to find any understanding of life is through the mundane. Repetition becomes maniacal becomes truth. For me, that is what Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth sets out to show in his brief, hypnotic, experimental work Det Perfekte menneske (The Perfect Human, 1967). The human being – the perfect man, the perfect woman – as landscape.
Again today I experienced something I hope to understand in a day or two.
There is a mystery in Leth’s film that has haunted Lars von Trier, another filmmaker – who forces Leth out of his obscure and depressed life in Haiti to revisit The Perfect Human. De Fem benspænd (The Five Obstructions, 2003) is an ingenious concept and production, directed by Leth and von Trier. Amazing.
Leth, based on von Trier’s project, must rethink the intervening thirty-five years and recreate, in the present, his “Perfect Human”. Leth accepts the challenge. But there are rules. He must make five new films, using the theme and script of the original, but with obstructions, designed to make Leth fail. Von Trier does this because he believes Leth’s original film to be, in fact, a perfect work.
Each film will have a different set of obstructions. Leth likes cigars from Havana, so the setting of the first “Obstruction” must be Cuba. After that, Leth decides he will not help or give away his weaknesses to von Trier. That doesn’t matter since von Trier is convinced he understands Leth more completely than Leth understands himself.
The retooling of the original idea is a fascinating possibility. Leth succeeds – no matter the setting or obstacle. With The Five Obstructions the viewer must experience the individual pieces but must also find the sum of those pieces.
The film is part joke, part journey, part fiction, part documentary – but total art. The ultimate truth? ... art cannot be duplicated – only imitated.
The major barrier for #1 is that no scene could be more than 12 frames – or ½ second – in length. Leth initially assumes this rule to be a monster, but later surrenders to it, calling it “a paper tiger”.
Obstruction #1 – The Perfect Human: Cuba (Leth, Dir. / 2003):
... films to live by ...