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Acting the Idiot
The Idiots (DVD)
Member Name: Zmugzy
The Idiots (DVD)
Date: 08/07/09, updated on 13/04/13 (399 review reads)
Advantages: Outstanding performances and thought provoking
Disadvantages: Might offend some.
The film sticks closely to the rules set out in the manifesto of Dogma 95 - a collective of film directors founded in Copenhagen in 1995. The manifesto is made up of a list of rules concerning film making such as only using a hand held camera, relying on natural lighting, only using sound produced at the filming locality and shooting each scene in sequence. These methods and rules were somewhat influenced by the French New Wave cinema of the 1960s and by what the director refers to as the 'Swinging Sixties London scene' - in particular the Beatles' movies of that era.
Because it adheres strictly to the dogma95 manifesto there is initially a raw amateur feel to the film. At times the shaky hand held camera goes out of focus and the bleached lighting reduces the saturation of colours. But this did not spoil my enjoyment of the film which I found totally gripping from beginning to end. The simple point and shoot technique also served to remind one that great film making does not necessarily require vast resources.
What one might easily overlook in a film like this is the remarkable acting and the portrayal of some truly complex and multi-dimensional characters. I thought the performance of Bodil Jørgensen as Karen - the rather introverted latecomer to the group - was particularly outstanding. The film imitates the documentary style so well that it is hard not to think of the actors as real people participating in a documentary. This is accentuated by group member interviews given intermittently during the main film storyline. Responding to an off-camera interviewer, the characters comment on their experiences of 'spassing' with the group and give their opinions about other group members.
At the time of its release the film provoked a lot of controversy regarding the way in which disability was represented on screen. Personally I found little in this film to be offensive, but there is much content that some might find uncomfortable or repulsive to watch. One film critic who didn't like it was Mark Kermode - according to many internet sources he exclaimed out loud: "Il est merde! Il est merde!" during the official screening of the film at Cannes, and was ejected from the venue - rightly so in my opinion. On one level the film poses a lot of questions about the way mentally and physically challenged people are treated and the attitude of 'normal' society towards such individuals. In this respect I did not find this film at all offensive. I never once had the impression that the film was mocking people with disability. Even though the group members may 'act the idiot' for selfish reasons, there are many scenes - some quite funny, others more poignant - that starkly reveal how mentally/physically challenged people are ostracised by normal society.
Besides the portrayal of people with mental and physical handicaps there is also a fair amount of nudity including shots of exposed genitalia and erections. One brief explicit sex scene has the group participating in a 'spassing' gang-bang - a sequence like many in the film that provokes many ethical considerations and will have you either squirming in your seat or laughing out loud. When the film was shown on Film4 in 2000, depictions of genitalia were obscured by pixelization. It still fascinates me how some are still offended by full frontal nudity or even explicit sexual penetration whilst accepting or remaining unaffected by countless images depicting multiple forms of gratuitous stylised violence in so many Hollywood movies and TV shows - I think this says a lot about the twisted collected mentality of our own society.
Another theme in the film that came across to me was the importance of the 'group'. It seems no matter how absurd is the purpose of the group, through participation a powerful sense of family and belonging can still emerge. It is this idea that underlies some of the most emotionally intense scenes in the film. What also emerges here though is the sense of exploitation when some are forced into uncomfortable situations by more dominant group members. The film continually leaves you guessing as to the true purpose of the group - you're never sure as to what they're trying to achieve. Some members give hints that their reason for 'spassing' has political motives whilst for others it seems no more than a personal exploration or an escape from their 'normal' life. In one sense they are all escaping from reality and this issue is confronted by the more dogmatic Stoffer (Jens Albinus) who demands that each group member reveal their inner idiot in their personal lives by 'spassing out' at their work places and in front of their family. This leads to a surprising and dramatic conclusion to the film.
The extras on the DVD mostly take the form of written text - they include an interview with the director, an outline of the Dogma 95 manifesto, profiles of the cast and crew and an in depth analysis of each character in the film including the specific nature of the mental disability portrayed. The remaining extra is a simple photo library.
I rented this DVD and watched it twice but I still wanted to see the film again - this is one film I wished I'd bought. The outstanding acting performances along with the intensity of some of the scenes require multiple viewing. This might not be a film for everyone, but it should be. Great films as with all great art hold a mirror up to your face and force you to look deep within yourself. This is what 'The Idiots' does.
Summary: Documentary style Danish film about people feigning mental disability in social settings.