Movie Review by Louise Charman

Starring: Bodil Jørgensen, Jens Albinus, Anne Louise Hassing, Troels Lyby, Nikolaj Lie Kaas
Director: Lars von Trier

Seeking sense in a movie called THE IDIOTS is perhaps a little foolish, but it does make the cinematic experience just that bit more fulfilling if you know – or can at least guess – why the director made the film. The established Danish director Lars von Trier achieved great acclaim for his mesmerising film BREAKING THE WAVES, in which a disturbed Emily Watson comes to grief after a tragic marriage, but in his latest offering, THE IDIOTS, the characters are more disturbing than they are disturbed.

Led by the angry young man Stoffer, a group of intelligent, middle class friends experiment with ?spassing? – pretending to be mentally handicapped – and inflict themselves on the local community. On one such outing to a restaurant, they are joined by Karen, a depressed young woman who is dislocated from her life and family. Although she is drawn into the group, and seems to find some comfort with them, she inevitably questions the rationale and the morality of their feigned ?idiocy?.

And they have no satisfactory answers. When Karen asks Stoffer ?How can you justify acting the idiot??, he replies, ?You can?t?. Similarly von Trier admitted in one interview that the film was in some places ?meaningless silliness?. Interspersed with the actuality of the ?spassing?, are interviews with the members of the group once they have returned to their lives. While they seem to miss the camaraderie of those lazy summer days, none of them can offer any meaningful insight into the value of that shared experience.

Add to this the technical limitations of ?Dogma 95?, the ?policy? drawn up by a group of Danish directors including von Trier, which translates as handheld DV camerawork (frequently swimming in and out of focus), use of available light (not always available), and a script written in 4 days so that much of the film involves improvisation from the actors, and you have a rather graceless film. (Not that the limitations of Dogma 95 preclude a film from reaching standards of excellence – FESTEN (aka CELEBRATION) was also from the Dogma stable with the same ?home movie? style, yet was a groundbreaking film, with an engrossing story and intriguing characters).

The problem with THE IDIOTS is that they are not fascinating, interesting characters – the only character with any real mystery is Karen, and at the end of the film her story is shown to be a poignant one. But she is peripheral to the group in the main body of the film, an outsider brought in to let us see what is going on. Throughout the film Stoffer in particular tries to expose people?s prejudices towards handicapped people – the prospective buyer for the house, the council man who tries to move them on – but as this is invariably self motivated (to keep squatting in his uncle?s house) it is difficult to feel any sympathy. At one point a group of Down?s Syndrome people come to visit, and Stoffer storms off in disgust as the others enjoy their childlike embraces. It seems he is happy to examine his ?inner idiot? but not so pleased to meet any outer ones. When he pushes the others to return to their lives and play the idiot there, with people they know and value, all he achieves is the break up of the group. This is inevitable because there is no real point to what they are doing, besides fuelling Stoffer?s idle fantasies.

Perhaps the aim of the film is simply to provoke – there are scenes of seemingly gratuitous nudity, particularly a ?spassing? party turned gang bang which involves explicit shots of real penetration. But this is a slender thread on which to hang an entire film, and I think it underestimates the shock threshold of contemporary audiences. Alternatively, von Trier may have been experimenting with his own inner ?idiot? – letting it have a go at filmmaking. Let?s hope he has got it out of his system so that we can look forward to more groundbreaking cinema worthy of this gifted director.

1 out of 6 stars