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While not quite at the same level as _Breaking the Waves_, the only other
Lars von Trier I have seen (his films are quite hard to come by in
Midwestern American video stores, you understand), _The Idiots_ is still a
great film, and, in some ways, is just as important.
I have to comment on a lot of the reviews I've seen for this movie. A lot of viewers judge the film by the theories and views about the group's existence (particularly the view spoken by the most outspoken of the Idiots, Stoffer). This is surely not the way von Trier meant his audience to take the film. If you paid any attention to the film, you'll notice that the Idiots' lifestyle is never glamorized. Everyone's experience in the group ends in embarrassment and despair. You should also note that none of the Idiots has the same opinion of why they like to act the idiot. Stoffer might say that they do it to upset the bourgeosie (I don't pretend to know how to spell that word), but the next person might be doing it just to play around. The artist (whose name escapes me at the moment) is doing it to become a better artist, and the doctor is doing it almost for experiment. There is never a reason for the groups' existence that the entire group agrees upon. This is extremely important for understanding this film.
The way _The Idiots_ particularly hit me was in the characterizations. The actors are so great in this film that they hit the level of: "Is this really acting, or is it just being?" von Trier hit the same level in _Breaking the Waves_. These actors were so good, their characters just jumped out of the script. There are many characters, and only a few of them are characterized in the script extensively. Stoffer, although not the main character, is the most prominent character in the script. Many of the characters don't have all that many lines or screen time, but I felt I knew them all well.
I also appreciated that it actually entertained me. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it so much. It is often very, very funny (if offensive). It also gripped me emotionally. I did not particularly comprehend the ending's meaning, but it left me with a powerful emotion. I did have tears in my eyes when I left the theater, and a lot of thoughts in my head. When a man outside the theater stopped me to ask me how I liked it, my lips and my brain were too dry to actually answer anything but, "I liked it. I liked it a lot." 9/10
This misunderstood and wildly underappreciated film is up there with Riget
and Zentropa in the Von Trier canon, and in my opinion better than Breaking
the Waves. Critics focussed on the film's perceived cruel attitude towards
the mentally handicapped. Idioterne is actually a very personal film about
revolution, healing and Danish society's attitude
towards the 'retarded'. It is an incredibly brave and moving film that will
have you dabbing your eyes by the end.
Whoever decided that American filmgoers could not be exposed to the sight of penises, however, needs to lose their job. The absurdity of being exposed to full frontal female nudity--while being protected by big black floating boxes whenever a John Thomas is on screen--is an outrage. Did someone REALLY think this film would break through at the box office if these appendages were obscured? Were they concerned that Joe Six Pack was going to take the wife and kids to that new movie by that famed Danish director that's such a big hit with the arthouse crowd? The mind boggles.
As a Dane it may be easier to see where Lars Von Trier is coming from with
this social criticism (satire of social criticism!) movie.
First of all he comes from a country that prides itself in two traditions:
1. a state that takes care of and cares for everyone
2. a country that has a long tradition of social-criticism in literature and movies
For more than ten years it seemed that every big film project in Denmark had a social agenda...That was probably the only way to get financial support for your film project - which was most of the time, if not all of the time - supplied by the state.
This film is poking fun - primarily - at this social criticism tradition, while it also renews it.
But how much should we take seriously - Lars Von Trier would probably laugh at anyone, who takes this movie at face value - as a bona fide social criticism (which it is not!) and - of course - it fails as traditional "social criticism", just look at it - this is not a film like Pelle the Conquerer, there are no drunken, heavy-set men seducing their underage nieces and abusing the working man sadistically.
In short this movie wasn't meant to succeed in the genre in a traditional sense.
It has a more profound agenda - I have a hard time putting words to it, because what the movie says is so very Danish. Certain scenes are simply great: When they visit the factory and "the idiots" are allowed to turn the machines on and off...I can't explain why that is so intensely funny, but I'm pretty sure it's a Danish thing.
This film is funny, sad, sentimental, wonderfully-acted... It comments on a social-democratic tradition and state that embraces you for better and for worse...It also talks about capitalism in this system...Maybe it's really all about the compromise inherent in a social-democratic tradition existing parallel with a capitalist system. Such a compromise could be viewed as hypocrisy from a philosophical standpoint.
Central to this movie is the theme of honesty and sincerity...And all the while you don't want to take it too seriously, because you have a feeling that the director isn't all that serious about it himself...
In short I find the movie and it's intention irresistibly confusing.
Look I know jack about Dogme, but I know what I like and I like 'The
Idiots'! A LOT.
I find it hard to understand how so much has been said about the "lack" of production values or the nudity in this movie, which to me aren't even worth mentioning, but hardly anyone comments about how astounding the ACTING is! The actors in this, and in Von Triers' previous 'Breaking The Waves', display completely realistic acting very rarely (if ever!) seen in Hollywood. So next time some Hollywood mediocre "actor" is up on the podium clutching their Oscar, force 'em to watch 'The Idiots' and see if they can pull off performances of this calibre! The "biker scene" in itself is one of the bravest, most funny/scary sequences I've ever seen in all my years of move watching!
While I think all the actors involved are faultless, I would single out Jens Albinus as Stoffer as being particularly outstanding. I hope to see him go on to bigger and better things. I say "better", but you won't find many contemporary movies "better" than 'The Idiots'!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have to admit I completely missed the mini-release of Lars von Trier's
"The Idiots" last year - I even missed the release of the video! But I
spotted it on the shelf last night, looking for something spiky to tide me
over Thanksgiving, and I have to admit - it really did the job! This may
von Trier's best film, one in which he pretty much sheds the ponderous
sexual melodrama that marred "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the
Of course, be warned - this is EURO independent cinema, not American, which means it has a GENUINE edge - it's hardcore, in more ways than one. If your idea of "edgy" or "dangerous" is "Being John Malkovich" or "Boys Don't Cry", then you should probably avoid the Dogma-driven "The Idiots", in which full-frontal nudity is de rigeur (and on-camera urination and sexual penetration occur as well).
But if you want a funny, dirty, smart, irritating, and even infuriating satire of both the bourgeoisie and the bohemians who oppose it, then "The Idiots" is for you. von Trier has assembled a furiously talented cast of unknowns to spin this tale of a Danish commune that pretends - to the horror of the middle class masses that surround it - to be a private institution for "retards" and "spastics".
"The Idiots" travel around town in their van, invading bourgeois precincts like restaurants and swimming pools, and then generally shaking things up; shedding all physical dignity, they begin drooling, picking their noses, disrobing, peeing, and messing with the personal space of the appalled citizenry.
This is alternately funny, disgusting, and angering - but where the film becomes great is in its dissection of the bohemian mini-society that's perpetrating the big hoax. Led by the bitterly charismatic Stoffer, the rag-tag bunch is populated by the usual sexual misfits, mainstream drop-outs and screwed-up idealists, who are in complete denial of the personal failures that are driving their participation in the collective. The resulting scenes are instantly recognizable to anyone (like me) who's spent lengths of time in Bohemia - the irrational drift of the group's politics, the silly, self-serious conversations, the bickerings and territorial squabbles - in short, the bourgeois life writ small, only with more sex. (And believe me, it's a lot to pay for only a little more sex.)
For me, the best scenes lay in the skewering of the group itself. The scene in which one group member returns to "real life", to attend a high-powered meeting at his advertising agency, only to discover his "client" is actually one of the group's own spastics, is priceless. This is then topped by a viciously hilarious sequence in which one young guy imposes himself on a group of scary, tattooed bikers, drooling and moaning away. The bikers unexpectedly show fellow feeling, decide he must have to pee, lead him to the john, pull down his pants, and even aim his penis into the urinal, all as the poor kid desperately tries to urinate and stay in character. I'm not sure I've EVER laughed so hard.
The movie ends on a typically uncompromising note. The most enigmatic (and most recent) member of "The Idiots" provides the biggest surprise. When the test of "going native" rolls around - Stoffer challenges his followers to take their life style back into the "real world" - Karen rises to the challenge, and returns to a family that we always half-assumed rejected her. Only it turns out that SHE rejected THEM - after the death of her baby son, she didn't even go to the funeral - she just opted out of the tragedy completely. The scene in which she returns to her grieving, stone-cold husband and relatives, and then begins to twitch and drool, is nothing short of unbelievable. We can see in their chill why she left them - but we can also see how horrifying her behavior is in the context of insurmountable personal grief. The movie ends with a slap and a departure - hopelessly, in a way. There's no compromise between these two worlds - even if both are at bottom broken.
(Btw, the video I saw actually had little black boxes blocking out the male - and sometimes the female - genitalia. Look for the scene in which the little black box gets longer - it's a hoot all by itself!)
I just got to see it for a first time, in our Film Center, on a big screen,
in 35mm. Then I hung around for the movie about its making, "The
Humiliated"/"De Ydmygede". I ranked it a 10, and the movie about it was
very good to see, too, and on a large screen, and in quick succession.
I was very saddened by the only idiotic thing about this movie: the black censorship rectangles slapped over the print clearly not by von Trier the film-maker, over penises of actors or over some other frontal nudity or gasp actual sex. In the context of this work, this nudity was about as offensive or noticable as in a medical context, that is to say, not at all. The censorship was not only ridiculously unnecessary but offensive in the extreme. I feel ashamed of living in the US when things like this happen. To me, this was the true humiliation -- and Lars von Trier is to be congratulated for evoking that out of our sad country.
"The Humiliated" was not edited, which, ironically, gives one the missing glimpse of anatomy, here and there. How pointless to even care to censor -- but also, how revealing. The two movies claw at the dishonesty of our culture and our hangups even in this wounded capacity as object of futile censorship.
At first I was annoyed by the clipped faces in von Trier's framing at the beginning, but then I understood (this was not my first Dogme95; I just forgot about this aspect of it). Once I understood, I got so absorbed in what was shown that I did not notice the passage of time and regretted when the movie ended.
The Idiots could do well a TV serial. It presaged the so-called reality TV and preempted it in one fell swoop. I think it will age very well as important fingerprint of our times. Maybe one day someday Americans will grow up enough to let it see the light of the projector or even TV without the silly black rectangles marring the print.
All involved should feel very excellent about making this movie. It does a great job approximating the complexity of real life, a little delicious, thoughtful corner of it, and an uncomfortable one, at that. It defies criticism.
In Epidemic, one of his previous films, Lars von Trier noted that "a film must be like a stone in the shoe". Eleven years after Epidemic, Lars von Trier is famous, his budgets grew larger and so do the stones he puts in the spectators shoes. No, reality is never what you think it is. It stops moving when you expect it to rush, and than it rushes in a way that makes you dizzy. People that you considered to be serious collapse when it comes to testing their intentions in reality, and people that you never took a note of will prove to be the real heroes of life. At the same time Lars von Trier and his excellent actor ensemble try to explain why (non violent) social experiments always fail, in spite of what we learn at school and watch on TV. They fail for three main reasons. First, the intentions of the hardcore of every movement of this kind are different that the ones they declare on. Second, the few who take a social project seriously will remain outside the hardcore group in a lonely, non-influential position. And third: the external conditions for running an experiment of this kind are such, that it's impact is limited up front to zero, often without the acting persons realize it. A brilliant movie of a brilliant filmmaker, who revolutionized the cinema in the last generation. A must for every thinking person.
This movie is very explicit, and definitely not for the faint hearted - if
you have a problem with nudity etc. you should stay away (unless off
you want and eye opener)
The idiots was the second film made under the influential "dogma" rules (E.g. Spielberg (and others) has taken it up) and just as nr. 1 (T. Vinterberg's "Festen") and nr. 3 (S. Kragh Jakobsen's "Mifunes sang") the acting is superb, and almost too realistic. The shaking camera and the documentary feel really hits the viewer right in solar plexus. You want to cry, you want to scream!
In my opinion the theme is self realisation, modern man etc. If one wants to it can even bee seen as a comment to Hitler, manipulation, group thinking, the power of the mass etc.
It's not quite as tightly pulled of as "Festen", i.e. the idiots is maybe five or ten minutes to long. However: I claim that contrary to "festen" this movie is much more an art movie. It wants something more; it wants to constantly make the viewer aware of himself as a social individual with prejudice and more.
I wouldn't want to label this film social criticism, rather individual awareness.
As such it is the opposite of Von Triers "Breaking the waves" which was a very good movie as it made a very good impression of having a lot of depth that it just didn't. (which is a good achievement - I mean this)
(Breaking The waves and Mifunes sang: 8/10 Festen and Idiots: 10/10)
A group of retarded guys & girls grabs on to Karen, a bystander to their
moronic behavior in a restaurant, and they try to teach her and themselves
how to bring out the idiot that's inside you (and me). In documentary
style, derived from the Dogma95 rules for the film maker, Von Trier reaches
into our guts, twisting a knife slightly sharper than the one he used to
"Break The Waves". A similar style was used in "Epidemic", one of his first
films, which shocks us with the reality of death from a plague, slowly
crawling into the diagetic / real world.
It's a social problem he addresses. Is being normal normal? Try thinking of this small society, a micro cosmos, as a way out from the problems of the daily life - trying to escape instead of coping, trying to hide behind social masks and hypocrisy instead of facing the society with our real self, our real power. Notice who's the real idiot at the end of the film - who's the one who REALLY needs to escape and who ends up facing society fearlessly ? (I'll hint that these are two characters)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most people are drawn to this film simply because of the chic (though
quickly diminishing) appeal of the Dogme 95 manifesto, and through the
curiosity factor raised by the film's brief, though certainly explicit,
mid-narrative gang-bang. I think this is a bit of a shame, because
beneath the façade of daring social satire and beyond the conceptual
restrictions of the Dogme movement, there is a touching and affecting
story here, which, in terms of emotional relevance and
characterisation, is easily as endearing and beautifully realised as
the bleak portrayals found in von Trier's other films, Breaking the
Waves and Dancer in the Dark. It is important to note also, that The
Idiots forms something of a loose trilogy with the two films
aforementioned, in which von Trier, inspired by an old Danish
children's book, set out to make three films that each dealt with a
naïve and almost childlike female protagonist, who, during the course
of the film, sacrifices absolutely everything that she had at the
beginning of the story, in order to undergo a kind of emotional and
spiritual transcendence at the end.
As with many of von Trier's more recent films, the plot is deceptively simple... in the first scene (a disorienting mish-mash of fly-on-the-wall, candid camera and Luis Buñuel) we are introduced to the character of Karen, a meek and pensive woman, who, being unable to afford the more expensive items at a fancy upper-class restaurant, is chastised by the waiter and frowned upon by the curious clientele. At the far end of the restaurant we find a young carer, with two grown-up, mentally handicapped men. When one of the men takes hold of Karen's hand, our shy protagonist kindly agrees to help the young man out to the car. However, once there, the young man still refuses to let go, and the group, with Karen quietly in tow, eventually meet up with another group and embark upon a bizarre and shambolic tour of an insulation factory. These first ten minutes of the film (incorporating both the scene at the restaurant and the scene at the factory) are the most disarming, with von Trier throwing the audience into Karen's subjective perspective, and forcing us, as it were, to spend time with these people in order to understand and, to some extent, better appreciate the central ideology of the film.
By the time we discover that the idiots are "faking it" as part of some ill informed social experiment, we are forced, much like Karen, to take sides and make the decision... are we willing to spend another two hours in the company of these idiots? The rest of the film unfolds in a similarly episodic, fly-on-the-wall style, as the idiots try to get one over on the bourgeoisie by "spassing-out" in public places (restaurants, swimming pools, parks, bars and suburban estates) or unwinding at the posh, upper-class house of their self-elected leader, Stoffer. As the group mentality is pushed further and relationships strained, we watch Karen come to terms with the group and the sense of emotional liberation connected to the "inner-idiot". Whereas the other members of the group are privileged, arrogant and self-centred, Karen remains detached, though simultaneously in awe of the way these characters have seemingly cast off the problems of the everyday world and thus, as a result of this, it is Karen who remains the only member of the group willing to take her "spassing" to the next emotional level come the film's agonising closing moments.
For me, it is the character of Karen that really makes the film work, and I feel saddened by the fact that the previous commentators have made little to no reference of her or the actress who portrays her. Here, Bodil Jørgensen gives a brave performance that is certainly less showy than some of the other characterisations (particularly Stoffer, Jeppe, Josephine, Axel and Katrine), creating a believable character who, throughout the course of the film, reveals subtle emotional layers that allude to some unspoken sense of personal tragedy that is only really discussed towards the end of the film. The final scene of the picture, for me, is one of the most important scenes of the film (much more important than the majority of confrontational scenes that became the principal talking points), with Karen allowing her emotions to completely consume her, and thus, illustrating the allure of "spassing" and the freedom and catharsis that can be attained through such an act of emotional simplification.
It is of course important to take into consideration the group dynamic and the daring and emotionally honest performances from all involved (particularly Jens Albinus, Anne Louise Hassing, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Louise Mieritz), though, for me, it is the plight of Karen and her sense of sacrifice that ultimately defines the underling message of the film. Naturally, there is no getting away from the formal and technical constraints of the Dogme movement, with the film employing hand-held cameras, jump-cuts, natural lighting, no props and no post-synchronised sound, however, these factors should be seen as part of the visualisation of the text, as opposed to an empty aesthetic. Those that see the film and merely take from it the sense of experimentation and the surface controversy of theme and content (the explicit sexual footage takes up about five minutes of screen time in a film that runs for more than two hours) are really missing the point, whilst to limit the effect and purpose of the film to something as juvenile and trivial as the miss-treatment of the mental disabled, is on a par with people citing À bout de soufflé as being noting more than the film that gave us the nouvelle vague.
The Idiots is a film that goes much deeper than the central notion of intelligent characters acting the idiot, and instead, presents us with an honest and heartbreaking film about personal loss and the act of overcoming.
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