Customer Review

30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As important, in a cinematic sense, as À bout de soufflé., 28 Feb 2006
This review is from: The Idiots [1999] [DVD] (DVD)
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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