Customer Review

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dare to laugh, 12 Oct 2009
This review is from: The Idiots [1999] [DVD] (DVD)
It's easy to confuse the adjectives "controversial" and "thought-provoking". The difference is that the former is a concept manufactured by the media and the latter is the raison d'etre of film-makers like Lars von Trier. Ostensibly this is a film about a group of people pretending to have cerebral palsy. But obviously that's not what it's really about; and I think that only those without the inclination to seek one of many possible meanings would label it "controversial" on this basis. It's classic knee-jerk.

The Idiots is a challenging indictment of middle-class hypocrisies and an enthralling deconstruction of the bohemian ideal.

Early in the film the question keeps being asked: Why is what we're doing wrong? "Because you're poking fun." But who really comes out of the narrative looking idiotic? The stuttering patio-owner, fearful of a potential insurance claim? Josephine's father, who tears his weeping daughter away from her friends? Rarely it's The Idiots themselves, whose motivations are subtly sketched out as Stoffer's commune collapses around him.

Stoffer himself is "anti-middle-class", suggesting he's simply afraid of growing up. There's the doctor, constantly writing notes, who may be treating the whole affair as some kind of social experiment. There's the marketing man, using the commune as an escape from the superficiality of his truly idiotic occupation. And there's Karen, our silent observer, whose own reasons for falling in love with The Idiots comes to flatten us in the final reel. This leads to a gripe: certain characters remain nothing MORE than sketches. I would have liked to see von Trier eschew some of the social confrontation scenes in favour of further narrative episodes.

Some scenes - such as the door-to-door Christmas decoration sale, or the house-buyers' tour - may come across as crass and cruel, but they're fascinating insofar as they present the hypocrisies that lie in the heart of us all.

Perhaps the impact of The Idiots' public "spassing" is softened somewhat in these post-Borat/Bruno days. But von Trier is a trickier customer than Baron Cohen. As such, we laugh aloud, but we're never quite sure of who we're laughing - or, indeed, if we should be laughing at all. Watch this, and then watch how all other films seem quaint by comparison.
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