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Idiots, The

Director: Lars Von Trier

Denmark-Netherlands-France-U.S.A.-Italy-Germany| 1998. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo SR. 117 minutes.


Although von Trier and fellow Danish director Thomas Vinterberg launched the Dogma movement in 1995, the first fruits of this no-frills, back-to-basics attempt to revitalise contemporary cinema didn’t appear until The Idiots and Festen premiered at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. Vinterberg’s savage family drama received most of the attention as well as a major prize, but von Trier’s experimental piece is arguably the more provocative and genuinely innovative work. Thematically, it builds on the concern with notions of innocence, purity and wisdom in the mentally infirm that were touched on in Breaking the Waves and The Kingdom. Here von Trier goes much further by focusing on a group of people-not unlike a religious sect or commune-who indulge in various forms of socially unacceptable behaviour, or ‘spassing’, in and around a house on the outskirts of Copenhagen. Shot in the style of a documentary according to Dogma rules, the film has the feel of a piece of performance art, especially in its emphasis on improvisation and playacting. A narrative thread of sorts is provided by Karen (Bodil J¿rgensen), a newcomer to the group who is initially angry at their antics but eventually begins to join in, taking part in role playing and even a group sex romp. Despite an abundance of scenes designed to shock, the film makes a serious point with the revelation that most of the group members are frauds, but for Karen the whole experience may have rescued her broken life.

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