The second film to come out of the Dogme ’95 initiative, Idioterne (or, “The Idiots”) is Lars von Trier’s freshman take on what the Dogme Manifesto has to offer. I’ve found von Trier to be a very take-it-as-you-go director; his films are just… there, to be experienced, and they never push anything on you – they want you to find it all for yourself. This mentality lends itself most excellently to the Dogme style of filmmaking, which is all about simply existing without any frills or special gimmicks. The Dogme style, and von Trier’s style of filmmaking, thus compound on each other in Idioterne, making a film that one may certainly call the epitome of the Dogme style, whether that be for the better or for the worse.
Disclaimer: there’s also a bit of sexual content in this one, so heads up.
Don’t expect too much of a stylistic difference between this and Festen; the two films are blood brothers, the way they look and feel and seem. The difference, I noticed, was that while Festen was cohesive and uniform in the way it handled the unique look of the Dogme principle, Idioterne simply used it as an excuse to not bother with things like proper composition or even focus pulling. The film was shot on a handheld camera, and wants you to know it for every second that appears on screen; it’s almost a weirdly Danish spin on Godard and the French New Wave, and I wasn’t too keen on it. I made a big deal in my recent reviews of Godard films about how such things as sloppy camerawork and broken editing and storytelling would be cried foul if it were anybody but the so-called pioneers of the movement, creating a double standard that I refused to take part in. Idioterne’s look and feel is too similar to that which I previously denounced for it to get a free pass from me, I’m sorry to say; while it was much more likable, it was still shoddily done, and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t call the film out on it. I’m pretty sure I even heard the director yell out “action” during a scene in the park, in the film itself, which to me is a pretty big no-no.
I’ve taken a while to get to the premise: the film is all about a group of adults who, in a roundabout way of bucking the system, act like mentally disabled people in public for laughs, for insight, but mostly for the hell of it. They make up their own reasons for doing it, but one can still tell they’re making up their own reasons. I explain the premise mostly because the film dives right into it without telling you so much as what you are supposed to be understanding, a personal annoyance for me when it comes to narrative. The storytelling is very disjointed; the film squirts and ambles along, cutting incongruously and oftentimes abruptly, so you never really get a flow or feel for anything going on, and the narrative is pretty much exclusively fly-on-the-wall – the actors are put in scenarios, and they take it from there, with the camera just there to capture what happens. This makes for a story that is increasingly hard to follow; if I hadn’t known the premise beforehand, I almost certainly would’ve been completely lost within the first 15-20 minutes. From there, though, the story does delve into the inter-personal relationships between the self-styled “idiots”, which was helped along by a series of interview-segment vignettes, which I found to be a good decision, at least.
As it usually happens, it’s the films that I dislike more than I like that I end up having more to say about. Now, I didn’t dislike Idioterne; I disliked how it went about telling its story. That, more than anything, is why I gave it the rating I did, but if this style of filmmaking does appeal to you, or to your interest, then Idioterne may be a sleeper favorite for you. It just, sadly, wasn’t for me. There was too little to like and too much to dislike, a ratio that never really did anything to correct itself as the film went along. That, in all, was my biggest problem with Idioterne. Hopefully it won’t be so much of a problem for you.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10