CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Friday, November 30, 2007


I've seen a lot of movies in the past two months, and amazingly, the one that has most stuck with me is Lars von Trier's The Idiots. I'm still trying to decide whether or not that means the movie's actually any good.

Aping a documentary style, The Idiots tells the tale of a woman (Bodil Jorgensen) who abandons her normal life to live with a commune of people who spend their time trying to find their "inner idiot." Jorgensen's character, Karen, only dominates the action at the beginning and end of the film, leaving the middle to the Idiots and their pranks. Their leader is Stoffer (Jens Albinus), a man utterly shameless in his childishness.

Stoffer is the key to understanding The Idiots, right down to his name. We learn at one point that his full name is Christopher, but he has shortened it to Stoffer instead of Chris. This backwards mentality dominates the film, right down to its style. If von Trier had used the same style as in Festen, the first Dogmen film, the subject matter would have clashed with the aesthetics, creating a giant mess.

Thomas Vinterberg made a very traditional movie with Festen, even though he followed the Vow of Chastity to the letter. von Trier, on the other hand, made a film that challenged traditional realistic filmmaking. It confronted the audience with its falsity by claiming some semblance of truth. The hand-held camera automatically gives the viewer the feeling of actually being there to witness the events on screen. von Trier goes a step further with the documentary angle by forcing us to realize that we are not mere flies on the wall. The camera is a real presence, and these are people reacting to it. Instead of a more realistic feeling, which should naturally come from Dogme's rules, we are more detached than ever.

This sort of anti-logic extends throughout the story. The only person who actually commits to the Idiots' philosophy is the one who should have no part in their actions. The leader is a coward, afraid to act like an Idiot before his family and friends. There is an entirely unexciting orgy, shown in all its graphic glory, yet the only true moment of sexuality features both participants fully clothed. Nothing is what it seems, and the most sympathetic characters change all too quickly. von Trier turns everything on its head, leaving the audience baffled and abused. Is that a good thing? Who knows, but it makes for some fascinating cinema.

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