15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
, 7 May 2011
This review is from: The Idiots  [DVD] (DVD)
Never one to shy from a bit of controversy, Danish director Lars Von Trier caused a storm in 1998 with The Idiots. Since then, he has started making American movies that seem almost misogynistic in it's attitudes to women. His films put their female protagonist through horrifying and gruelling psychological and physical abuse. But the controversy stirred up by The Idiots wasn't because of its portrayal of women, but its apparently sadistic mockery of the mentally disabled.
The film follows a bunch of young men and women, living together in a large house owned by the uncle of Stoffer (Jens Albinus), who spend their time pretending to be mentally ill and finding their 'inner idiot'. They pick up an apparently lost woman Karen (Bodil Jorgensen) at a restaurant and she joins them, equally fascinated and repulsed by their acts. As Karen searches for her inner idiot, the group continue to 'spas' (Danish equivalent of 'spaz') at various locations, seemingly for their own amusement. Stoffer is meant to be selling the house for his uncle, but since the group has settled their, he uses the group as a means to scare away any potential buyers. However, tensions start to develop in the group, mainly due to the increasingly aggressive and unpredictable behaviour of the unstable Stoffer.
It's difficult to work out who exactly Von Trier is poking fun at. It could be the group themselves, who claim to be anti-bourgeois and anti-middle class, yet seem to only use this claim when it frees them from responsibility. A member of the group, who has run away from his wife and his child, thinks about returning, only to describe the thought of pushing his child around in a pram as 'so middle class'. Or the film could be making fun of society's attitudes to the mentally disabled. When a potential buyer for the house is told by Stoffer that a house for the mentally ill has opened next door, the woman is clearly uncomfortable at the idea of them encroaching on their ideal middle class existence. When the group surrounds her, she panics and flees, most likely never to return.
It is not a film that lays out its purpose as clear as day. If there is a social message in the film at all is again unclear. What is clear is that The Idiots is a challenging, frustrating, funny, intelligent and extremely uncomfortable film. Von Trier's desire to be as controversial as possible has been evident in the majority of his films - the clitoris removal in Antichrist, the cold, brutal ending of Dancer In The Dark. I usually find annoying in a filmmaker (Gaspar Noe comes to mind, apart from his exceptional Irreversible), but Von Trier's ability to genuinely unsettle is the work of an extremely interesting and gifted filmmaker.
Although it breaks many of the rules, The Idiots is the second film in the Dogme '95 manifesto, started by Thomas Vinterberg's Festen, using natural light, hand-held cameras, and avoiding anything implicating genre or superficial action. The film also depicts apparently un-simulated hardcore sex, in a highly controversial scene in which the group take place in a gang-bang while in their 'idiot' character-mode.
A love-it-or-hate-it film, but I found it truly original and fascinating.
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