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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Five Obstructions (2003)

The Five Obstructions is a experimental documentary where Lars von Trier challenges his friend/mentor Jorgen Leth to re-create his short film, The Perfect Human (1967), five different times - each time with a new set of specific obstructions that he must follow. The Perfect Human portrays a man and a woman, both considered "perfect humans" by the narrator who, in an empty room where they go through the most basic of human activities: jumping, eating, sleeping, dancing and even undressing. An fascinating experimental short that greatly inspired von Trier. Each new set is met with apprehension by Leth but each time he use his challenges to his advantage to create a fresh and original new take on his original idea. Watching Leth's processes of exploring new ground with his film and technique is amazing, achieving so much with a single idea is something we rarely get to see. Once Lars von Trier's true and conflicted intentions are revealed through the 5th obstruction, this brilliantly original documentary depth is revealed.

P.S. Lars von Trier, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have announced that they plan to do a similar collaboration with a remake(s) of Taxi Driver.

Medea (1988)

Lars von Trier's adaptation of Carl Theodor Dreyer's play adaptation of the Greek tragedy of Medea. It is the tale of a Greek woman named Medea's shocking revenge that she takes on her warrior husband Jason who has left her to marry into royalty. To be honest, I was pretty lost by the films end. I had my own interpretations, which to an extent were right, about what had happened. Once I read up on the Greek myth it was based on I was able to appreciate its horribly depressing ending that leave so much unanswered much more. Von Trier's direction is what makes the film, the way he uses the scenery and atmosphere of his ancient setting creates both beautiful and haunting images. A scene where a horse is poisoned and as it is dying runs to the ocean while being followed by hundreds of birds is filmmaking beauty. Like so many of his films it is the way von Trier uses the last 20 or so minutes of the film to bring everything together and leave you with lingering thoughts and emotions. If any of you watch this be sure to read into what it is based on first, because going into it blind may confuse you or leave you with the wrong initial opinion.

The Price of Pleasure (2010)

The Price of Pleasure is a documentary that explores pornography and the effects it has on American society: our tolerance and intolerance of it and how porn has become a one of the most profitable businesses in the world - earning in the range of $10-$14 billion a year. Starting with shocking, but irresistibly fascinating, statistics and studies of the phenomenon that is porn. Its ideas are jumbled and unable to have any decipherable intent other than to inform; for most of the film that isn't a problem. But once it goes down the darker path to show the violent nature and content of porn, watching it show content that made my stomach churn and force me to question the sanity of our entire country only to end on the weak conclusion that porn is bad infuriated me. Fortunately, one of the strongest parts of the film came at the end where a porn user explains how once the arousal and "passion" is gone and you are left looking at a video/pic of a women after she has been dominated by a man it leaves a sickening feeling in your stomach. If only the film would have stuck with that intent and wasn't a mess of ideas and conflicting opinions.

The Kingdom I (1994)

The Kingdom was created by Lars von Trier who co-directed this 8 -part miniseries with fellow Danish director, Morten Arnfred. Von Trier's style and influence is easy to pick out - from the grainy, sepia toned visuals to the constant tension and despair felt by all the main characters. Like a dramatic soap opera - especially in the title theme - it has constant plot turns and you can never predict how anything will go.

Set in a hospital, named The Kingdom, that was build overtop an ancient bleaching bond where fog and spirits haunted the air. You get to know a variety of characters who inhabit The Kingdom and they all have their own side-plots going on. However, the main story that we follow in this first part is spiritualist Sigrid Drusse's (Kirsten Rolffes) struggles to learn the story of Mary Jensen (Annevig Schelde Ebbe), a little girl who was murdered in The Kingdom and now her spirit haunts the hospital until she can find peace. Although it is Mrs. Drusse attempts to bring peace to Mary that is the main struggle, acclaimed Danish actor Ernst-Hugo Jaregard's performance as conflicted and devilishly deceptive neurosurgeon, Stig Helmer, steals every episode. His desperate and corrupted attempts to hide his past mistakes add a real evil feeling to the already supernaturally eery setting.

The way this half of The Kingdom ends is abrupt, but not in the annoying way that a lot of shows/miniseries' tend to end their seasons. Every episode runs by a well-paced and plotted narrative until the last 10-20 minutes where everything begins to come to a head and reveal its inner destructiveness - similar to von Trier's films. And there is no difference with the last episode of this first part: right when you think everything is going to conclude fine and in a satisfactory way, the evil that von Trier talks so much about in his end credit monologues finally begins to really show itself and we are left wondering what in the hell the next part of this fascinating vision will have in store.