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by Tony Lee editor of
Director: Lars Von Trier
109 minutes (18) widescreen 1.66:1 Tartan DVD Region '0'
review by Gary Couzens
A commune of young men and women find a way of confronting society by means of
"spassing", that is pretending to be mentally retarded. At first it seems
like a game, but soon fissures appear in the group, who must face the consequences of
"exploring their inner idiot."
Once, Lars Von Trier was director who made films that were visually
striking but very, very cold. Technically they were flawless, but you couldn't get
below that immaculate surface. Then, in one of the greatest self-reinventions of recent
years his style changed. With Breaking The Waves and the TV serial The
Kingdom, his camerawork became more rough-and-ready, not worrying about the
occasional mismatched cut or awkward composition (something he's have been mortified
to let through previously). But what was let in was emotion: often messy, dark and
hard to digest.
The Idiots is a black comedy that's often funny but which leaves a
disturbing aftertaste. It attracted controversy due to its subject matter. To suggest
that it makes fun of the disabled, as some have done, is to misread it. It was also
controversial for a scene where the commune has an orgy, which includes brief shots of
erections and penetration. (There is also a considerable amount of full-frontal nudity
of both sexes.) This was passed by the BBFC intact, both on film and on video and DVD.
Needless to say this is not a film for the prudish or the easily offended.
The Idiots was the second film (after Festen, before
Mifune) made under the Dogme '95 Vow of Chastity, a back-to-basics manifesto
that prescribed handheld cameras, real locations, and direct sound - in other words no
reliance on fakery. Like Festen, it was shot on video. A copy of the Vow of
Chastity is included amongst the extras, though as Rule 10 says that the film must be
in Academy Ratio (1.37:1) it seems perverse to crop the image to 1.66:1. Von Trier
deliberately allows microphones to appear in some scenes, and cameras to be reflected
in mirrors and on car bonnets, presumably as not-entirely-successful Brechtian
The Idiots is in Danish with English subtitles. The picture quality is as rough
and ready as you might expect from its video origins. The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0,
and the extras include a trailer, filmographies, a stills gallery, text interview with
Von Trier, and "character analyses."
originally published online in VideoVista #19, October 2000
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