Notes on Short Film

Lengthy diatribe on brief cinematic experience.

The Perfect Human (1967)

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The original 1967 short film The Perfect Human directed by Jorgen Leth is black and white, with an aloof, removed narration (by Leth himself) much like a nature documentary. It pokes fun at the idea of perfection in humanity and in film. With just two characters, no setting, and sparse mise-en-scene, it is hailed (perhaps ironically) as a “perfect” film and an example of the Vows of Chastity detailed in the Dogme 95 Manifesto. An admirer and student of Leth, as well as one of the authors of the manifesto, Lars von Trier challenged the older director to remake the film five times, with five different obstructions to muddle the perfection and clarity of the original film. Interesting that their collective goal was to remove the obstruction from truth that film imposes as a medium, and that their plan of action was to further obstruct the truth in order to reveal it. The product of this exercise, The Five Obstructions (2003), is a fascinating study in filmmaking. Is it more important for a filmmaker to impose their artistry in a film to represent the truth, or to lose all artistry and aesthetic to get as close to truth as possible? An analysis from the Movie Gazette writes:

Von Trier wants to disrupt and banalise Leth’s original film, chiselling away at its cool perfection and forcing the director to expose something of his own imperfect humanity in the remakes.

This is most apparant in the last obstruction, in which von Trier forces Leth to allow him to direct and keep Leth’s name on it, as well as casting him to read a voice-over where he admits defeat to von Trier. It’s an interesting look into the relationship between these two filmmakers, and the obvious respect Lars von Trier has for Jorgen Leth even as he tries to trip him up at every turn. The obstructions force the audience to admit “Leth proves over and over how creative he can be—indeed, the obstructions seem to heighten his ingenuity.” (From Ferdy on Films)

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Written by Alisa Hathaway

March 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm

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