The Idiots (1998) from Tuna

The Idiots  is a film by Lars van Trier made according to the Dogma 95 manifesto, which was an attempt by a group of directors to rescue film from the formulas, special effects, violence, trick lighting, etc that has replaced plot and character in modern film. Basically, they may use only hand held cameras, no artificial lighting, other than a singe white light mounted to the camera, no special filters, nothing but practical locations (no sets), and no props that are not found at the location. I argued that this was effective in his Breaking the Waves, as it helped set mood. In this case, it seemed much more like amateur film-making. Lighting was terrible, the shaky cam nearly made me seasick, and none of this contributed in a positive way to the plot or mood. The Idiots, AKA Idioterne is a story concerning a bunch of people who gather at a house and play retarded people, to "free their inner idiots." They are mostly rich and successful, can afford this odd pastime, and derive glee from fooling others with their "spaz acts."

Bodil Jørgensen runs into some of them accidentally in a restaurant, and ends up joining them. Each has defined their own version of idiocy, and practices it whenever he can. Things come to a head when the founder, Jens Albinus, challenges them to take their spaz act into their real life. Two women, Louise Mieritz and Trine Michelsen, show everything more than once.

I found the ideas interesting, and think this could have been an excellent film, exploring the nature of madness, and coming to grips with ourselves, but found the Dogma 95 style too distracting to enjoy the film.


  • see the main commentary in white

Scoop's notes:

Of course, the Dogme 95 Manifesto has its good points. It addressed a legitimate concern among "artistic" filmmakers - that the formulaic, artificial Hollywood movies are becoming the exclusive mode of cinematic expression. Even Frenchmen are starting to copy them.

Unfortunately, like most deconstructionist movements, it formulated a set of rules without defining first what those rules were designed to achieve. Therefore, they tend to be rules AGAINST things rather than FOR things. It's always easier to tear something down than to build something. If they had started out with the premise that they wanted to replace unrealistic Hollywood fantasies with realism, plot, and character development, they would have developed a completely different set of rules.

And thus we come to the greatest flaw in their set of rules. Lighting. That is their Achilles Heel. Although Hollywood does come up with gimmicky lighting at times, the basic purpose of film lighting is to make the light-resolving power of a 35mm camera exactly equal to that of the naked eye. In other words - to make it MORE realistic, to allow us to see on film what we would have seen had we been there. Since the Dogme filmmakers are restricted to a single white bulb, and since that will not make a movie camera see things as the human eye sees them, and since the human eye defines our visual reality, those lads have therefore set up a set of rules that completely assures, beyond any doubt, that none of their films will ever look like realistic.

Somehow I don't think that's what they really intended.

In their rush to criticize traditional filmmaking, they forget to define their primary objective, which was to build something good, not to tear down something else. (And why would they want to eliminate violence? Reality can be violent.)

There have always been many European and some American filmmakers who have been frustrated by the fact that making a film requires two widely different talents - artistic and technical. Even if you have the greatest script and actors in the world - the RSC doing Henry V, for example, it does not guarantee a good film. You need to remove the lens cap, design the sets, calculate the lighting, blah, blah, blah. And that's even before you get into the editing room. The challenge with the technical side is that it allows no room for poseurs. You either go and study it and learn to do it right, or you are completely lost. Filmmakers motivated by a need or desire to create "art" often simply don't want to learn the technical side. They are like English majors who don't understand why they have to take the required math and science courses. In addition, no investor in his right mind is going to give these people money to make movies, because not many people would want to see the movies they would make. Therefore, they simply can't afford to make technically slick movies, and are forced to declare the Dogme rules as a matter of pure survival. Based solely on economics, they either make unlit handheld movies or none at all. Necessity is the mother of their invention.

Well, lads, the greatest artists also learned to be great technicians, so they could get the effects they wanted whatever those effects might be, real or artificial. Bergman is a good technician. Tarkovsky was a good technician. Welles was a brilliant technician. Even Robert Altman, whose films sometimes seem sloppy and casual, is a good technician whose ostensible lack of slickness was simply the technique he favored in some films.

These Dogme lads are mostly right about Hollywood's lack of artistic sensibility, but they are very confused about the technical side. It took decades of technical progress to be able to film night scenes and underwater scenes and indoor scenes so that they mimic what the eye can see. Shall we turn back a century of progress for some muddled ideals? What are those guys, the Taliban?

In other words, stop your whining and learn to make films correctly. Then maybe some people will give you the money to make the films you want to make, thinking that other people might actually pay to go to your films. I grant you it isn't likely, but it is possible.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • no meaningful features

Spliced Wire wrote the following about this film, which is probably valuable to your process of evaluating whether you will like it:

"It's one thing to know in your own ego that you're an intrepid cinematic genius. It's quite another thing to be so cocky that you leave flubbed shots in your movie and call it art. The writer-director's anti-establishment self-indulgence gets the better of him in this picture. Is he really so full of himself that he thinks scenes with cameramen, boom mikes and crew members lingering in the corners of the frame don't need to be re-shot? Apparently so, and it's distracting. Especially in a movie that's already deliberately unpolished.


The film feels a bit like the kind of dour, sketchy art house import Mike Myers used to mock on Saturday Night Live as Dieter, the German artistic elitist."

The Critics Vote

  • Apollo 61/100

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 7.0 of 10, Apollo voters 56/100
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-.

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