Back in 1995 at a Parisian film conference, provocative Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier announced a new quasi-communist film movement he and crony Thomas Vinterberg had been manifesting. Equipped with ten commandments, or filmmaker obstructions, Dogme ‘95 was the linchpin for a new wave of European filmmakers which were able to embrace the new digital technology without needing to worry about the costly constraints of high production values or studio backing (somewhat ironically, as original rules indicated that filming had to be done on 35mm).
Democratising the media, the collective established 39 credited Dogme-adhering films break at least one of the manifesto dictums. Undoubtedly visionary, the problem with the whole shebang is that a lot of the films simply do not work on an audience/entertainment level. The Idiots is one of them.
Made three years after the infamous French declaration, this is Lars von Trier’s only film produced under his self-made regime. The constant contrarian, he probably got bored of the limitations he himself imposed and decided to take his career in a new direction (cue Dancer in the Dark, the director’s best film). A liberation movie, of sorts, The Idiots centres around a young bourgeoisie who debunk break social conforms by living as a collective embracing their psychological “inner idiots” or, to put it plainly, cruelly act out as a bunch of mentally handicapped sycophants.
Although The Idiots doesn’t reach the multifariously entertaining heights of the first Dogme film, Vinterbeg’s Festen (The Celebration, 1998), it is another testament to LvT’s ability to absorb audiences into complex stories through the reactionary emotion of shock. But is this truly horrid talent something worth meriting?
What stops The Idiots from being a mini-masterpiece within LvT’s oeuvre is it’s desperation to be regarded with profundity, adopting a bombastic, socio-reflexive stance about the absurdity of modern day – a ‘keeping up appearances’ culture – rather than just sticking to the obstreperous old fart’s roots as an art film filmmaker. By attempting to play the renegade,The Idiots ironically ends up being a film with no integrity or stance, unfairly glamorising a taboo subject matter which was probably best left alone.