Monday, October 15, 2012

The Idiots (1998) Review

The Idiots posterDirector: Lars von Trier
Genre: Dogma 95, Drama, Comedy

The Idiots is one of the first of few films to fall into the Dogma 95 genre. Directed by Lars von Trier, the man who actually invented the genre himself with the Dogme '95 Manifesto. For those who aren't film experts I will provide a brief summary of what the genre entails.

Dogma 95 is an attempt to achieve the purest form of film. The Manifesto states that in order for a film to be classified as so it must: (1) Not bring in external props to a set; all props must have been there naturally. (2) Must be filmed with a hand-held camera. (3) Must be in color and use natural lighting; no filters either. (4) No sound can be edited into the film, i.e, music or sound effects. (5) The director must not be credited.

That just about sums it up, there are many more rules and guidelines but you get the gist. This genre, though created in 1995, never actually saw a film that followed the guidelines until 1998. The Idiots was one of the first, and even it broke a few of the rules.

Now whether or not you're a fan of the genre, or as the director may call it: a cinematic revolution, it will really make or break whether or not you enjoy this film. Fans of the genre will love it, those who dislike the genre will dislike it. Those who wish to get into the genre, this film is as good a place as any to start. 

The Idiots is about a group of people who "channel their inner idiots" by going into public and acting as if they were mentally handicapped. It may sound a bit silly, and it is, leading to plenty of good laughs. The latter half of the film however gets fairly dramatic when some members of the group of challenged to "spass" (meaning act like a retard) in front of their families. Spassing is something they really only did in front of complete strangers, and it is tougher than you may think for them to bring their secret hobbies into their family.

The plot isn't very straightforward or linear, it's more of just an brief glimpse into the lives of extraordinary people. It won't hold your hand or explain to you what is happening, it leaves all the figuring out and interpreting up to you, the viewer.

Often classified as a Dramatic Comedy, which I can't disagree with, there are some hilarious scenes here. Take for example the scene when Stoffer leaves his "mentally disabled brother" in a pub with a bunch of bikers while he goes to do something for ten minutes. Hilarity ensues when the bikers, who were told to watch after him, try and help him use the bathroom and so on. Very funny. Or the whole baby food, children's food dialogue bit I found to be pretty funny also.

The Idiots kissing

The film isn't necessarily trying to be funny, not in a conventional comedic sense at least. There are no jokes or acts, it merely allows you to spectate the lives of these people and how you react to it is completely subjective. I'd imagine there are many people who would find it horrid or ghastly or sad, just as many would find it funny. Some, like myself, will find it to be all of that.

The first half of the film we see these people acting like idiots, and we laugh at them, but they're happy. Acting like idiots makes them happy and is even therapeutic for them; and for that you understand and even respect them. But the second half plays with our emotional side. We see how their spassing effects their families, or how they may even be ashamed of themselves secretly. There is some pretty emotional stuff in here, and it is all very believable. 

Which brings me to the acting. The acting here is some of the most believable stuff I have ever witnessed. I often found myself forgetting it was even a film. It is a very real and raw film, not holding back or censoring itself at all. It shows all. The acting though feels as if you're really just watching someone's real life, someone unaware of a present camera. It takes the film to a new level all on its own.

The Idiots is often called offensive or disgraceful, but no, it is simply a realistic portrayal of people and how they act. Something that many people cannot accept.

Fucking fascists in The Idiots

If I had anything bad to say about this it'd probably be its length. It is two hours long and it does drag a lot, and it does get boring or uninteresting. It's a film that I doubt you'd want to rewatch too soon, but a film I know I'd eventually want to, when it is mostly forgotten.

It's a film that manages to be beautiful and ugly at the same time. Is funny and scary, happy and sad, gentle and pornographic, I'd even say the film is both good and bad. And you know how it achieves such a thing? Because it is essentially real life through a camera. Life isn't one adjective, it's all of them. And while most of us don't go around and purposefully act like retards, it is through this that we get to see sides of people we'd never see otherwise. This film is the closest you'll get to real life on screen, and it somehow manages that with a plot about people acting like mental retards. That, to me, is quite amazing.

What can I say, it's a film, watch it.

4/5 stars

Purchase The Idiots on Amazon: DVD

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