The Idiots (Idioterne) (Dogma 95) Reviews
Sticking semi-strictly the constraints of Dogme 95 filmmaking, this fuzzy film charts the punk-inspired mishaps of a group of people who like to go out and pretend to have learning disabilities - and claim to have one or two good reasons for doing so.
Some spout bizarre anti-establishment arguments in favour of the freedom and simplicity of the lives of the less capable and self-aware, which they believe better the constraints of an educated existence dedicated to the building up of 'middle class bullshit'. Others are merely disturbed, traumatised or bored with the severity of a serious life, and in desperate need of a frivolous escape.
Slowly but surely, writer-director Lars Von Trier's characters grow increasingly obsessed with the idea of trying to channel their 'inner idiots'. As this happens, the film's challenging concept and character psychology grow ever more understandable, yet ever more unattainable - much like the deranged sense of freedom and community each lost soul so desperately wants and needs to claim as their own.
The Idiots is a bold, ballsy character study; unique, uncompromising and utterly unforgettable.
And really nothing new: "experiments" of this kind - including explicit penetration, has already been done in the 70s, and then abandoned.
Fortunately, after this horror, the infamous dogma 95 has been abandoned. But it had the time to make some damage, the worst being this "The idiots"
Interestingly enough, the film is largely about folks pretending to be developmentally retarded, but the problem with that, outside of it being a premise that is too weird for its own good, the performances are perhaps more convincing than they ought to be, defining impressive transformative performances, as surely as the occasional dramatic note defines near-powerful performances. On the whole, there's not a whole lot of material for the performers to work with, for there is only so much material to begin with, yet the fact of the matter is that competence is consistent in the performers, and by no means completely absent from Lars von Trier's performances, even as screenwriter. Abstractionist something awful and reportedly completed within four days, von Trier's script is by no means anything to write home about on the whole, but it has its moments, with occasions of clever dialogue, and even a few colorful set pieces which actually proves to be sort of entertaining, or at least complimentary to the selling of questionable subject matter. Obviously, this film isn't that interesting, as it is generally misguided as an abstractionist drama whose weird premise is far from its most disconcertingly strange aspect, but there's a certain intrigue to its sheer, gutsy originality, alone, and its themes on social criticism are also unique and intriguing, with conceptual narrative potential that goes firmly betrayed in a lot of ways by an overtly experimental execution. That being said, no matter how artistically misguided, von Trier's direction has its commendable aspects, utilizing an intentionally amateur and naturalist visual style that, while technically questionable to the point of being aesthetically distancing, is refreshing and rather immersive, while also meeting occasions of genuine material with a thoughtfulness that draws out some adequate resonance. Mind you, von Trier never abandons the thoughtfulness, so when material lapses, as it ever so often does, the film crashes as near-tedious, and it's not like the heights in inspiration are all that soaring, because the film is too minimalist to be all that impressive at any point, yet the strengths stand. Alas, they cannot drive the final product beyond mediocrity that is actually kind of lucky to achieve, having its strengths and intrigue, but generally falling flat, even technically.
Falling firm into the Dogme '95 Manifesto which demands hyper naturalism and extreme minimalism to, if any filmmaking flare, the film is among the first shot entirely on digital, and in an amateur, very home video fashion at that, with noisy and cinematographically flat video quality which, while immersive in its naturalism, is aesthetically and subjectively questionable in its distancing simplicity. Of course, the film's visual style is not the only problematic form of style here, because it's storytelling, of all things, that is most overstylized, with an intentionally disjointed and unfocused narrative style that abstractly meanders along, saying little, even about its characters. No matter how convincing the performers are, there's not much to sell the characters who stand centered at what focus there is to this intimate film, as immediate development is barely present, while gradual exposition proves to be lacking, and character focus proves to be uneven, keeping you distant from characters who are disconcerting enough in their questionable, if not unlikable traits. The premise behind this film isn't all that believable, and that makes it hard to buy in on Lars von Trier's trademark themes on humanity deconstruction, even though you might would have stood a chance of getting invested in this character study if more was fleshed out. Of course, as much as the film tightens things up by thinning out exposition, when it drags, it drags something fierce, for although there was never to be too much material in this aggressively minimalist affair, a runtime of almost two hours is meandered to with the help of exhaustingly repetitious filler, if not sheer nothingness that is tedious enough on paper. Von Trier makes things even worse as director, abandoning atmospherics with a thoughtfulness that, no matter how effective during the occasions in which actual material kicks in, dries things out punishingly, with a dullness that is aggravating enough when von Trier doesn't place pretense into what atmosphere there is. I suppose von Trier's ambition is mostly charming, as it's not like the uniqueness and inspired highlights aren't worth respecting, but on the whole, von Trier tries too hard to do little, and that's challenging, maybe not to the point of destroying the film, but certainly to the point of rendering the final product mightily misguided.
Overall, the performances are convincing and the script and subject matter are often intriguing in their uniqueness and occasional effectiveness, while stylistic and atmospheric highlights to direction secure glimpses of a more decent film, ultimately lost in the wake of questionable technical value, storytelling and characterization which, all behind a tediously draggy and dryly, if not somewhat pretentiously told narrative, drive Lars von Trier's "The Idiots" into mediocrity as a refreshing, but artistically misguided bore.
2.25/5 - Mediocre