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So, yeah, NYMPH()MANIAC. It’s almost here. You knew that. But did you also know that LA COLLECTIONNEUSE, Eric Rohmer’s “most important film” (according to Jorgen Leth), was released in Denmark as THE NYMPHOMANIAC? Neither did I. Why would we? But we know it now, courtesy of THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS, a fascinating tug-of-war (or maybe cat and mouse game) between Leth and Lars von Trier, a couple of ethically dubious characters who also happen to be titans of Danish cinema. We may want to revisit that Rohmer film before the next von Trier premieres around here. I just figured I’d mention it.

As a founding pedagogue in the Dogme 95 collective, Lars von Trier has long been associated with a less-is-more approach to filmmaking. With the qualified exceptions of DOGVILLE (2003) and MANDERLAY (2005), however, one would never apply the term minimalism to his work, which is rarely formally spare or visually simplified, and tends thematically, at its best, towards a glorious, not impenetrable murk. What there is “less” of in Dogme dogma is freedom: participating directors are required to adhere to certain basic strictures — eg. location shooting, natural lighting, in-scene soundtracks, hand-held cameras — in the interest of returning to an allegedly more pure, straightforward, un-alienating cinema.

Dogme never really enforced its rules with any consistency — they were more ideological signposts than ironclad laws — and its notoriety gradually faded as its practitioners left it behind. Von Trier, though, continued to be attracted to the idea of radically reducing — or obstructing — cinema’s means, and in legendary Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth he found the perfect foil for a fresh experiment. In 1967, Leth created a captivating short called THE PERFECT HUMAN, a chilly, distanced, funny and weirdly moving little distillation of human bodies, human activities, and human lives, shot against white space with a blithely absurdist voice-over. It’s a perfect film, and von Trier loves it. But it’s too perfect — too coldly observant; too, frankly, inhuman — and von Trier wants to destroy it. So, in 2002, he invited a wary but game Leth to remake it, five times, each in accordance with rules and regulations imposed by von Trier: shots can’t exceed 12 frames, say, or the location must be the most miserable Leth has ever encountered, or Leth must perform the part of the perfect human himself, etc.

Von Trier hopes — not unlike Tom in DOGVILLE — to illustrate one of his pet theories about the relationship between art and humanity, to prove that crippling the former, in some sense, is necessary in order to bring it closer to the latter. And possibly vice versa. But Leth proves to be made of less malleable material than von Trier had bargained for — and thereupon hangs the struggle. The closing credits list Leth as the director and von Trier as the “obstructor.” THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS is a compelling record of their strange experiment in creative destruction.

2/22 & 2/23 – 3PM
90 minutes

Museum of Fine Arts
Remis Auditorium, 161
$7 MFA members, seniors, and students // $8 nonmembers

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