By Christian Monggaard, film critic and reviewer at Information, 2006
The purpose of Dogma 95 (Dogme 95) was to set up a strict set of rules to replace the extensive technical apparatus of traditional film-making. It was all about recovering the joy of making films and capturing the truth in scenes using simple means and pure acting. Lars von Trier’s Dogma 95 concept was mainly inspired by the French new wave of the 1960s. And The Idiots, Lars von Trier’s own dogma film, was the one among the first four such films that most clearly depicted what he had in mind.
The film is about a group of young, well-educated people who have opted out of society for a while. Under the leadership of the idealist Stoffer (idealists are common, but problematic in Lars von Trier’s films) they challenge society’s established order and social standards. They practise idiocy and later go out into the “real” world to show off their skills.
The inner idiot
The Idiots is funny in a subtle and ironic way but also emotional and moving. Not least when the idiots meet a slightly naive woman, Karen, who is the diametrical opposite of Stoffer and fails completely to understand why they act as they do. She questions their motivation for finding their inner idiot. But in fact it turns out that Karen’s need to act like an idiot and rebel against the expectations and demands of her surroundings is bigger than theirs.
Actors contribute to the process
The film is a typical example of Lars von Trier’s desire to challenge by pushing things to extremes. In his journal from the shooting of the film von Trier describes how he tried to make the process as unrestrained and collective as possible. The actors were to contribute to the story. But it became painful for him and some of the actors - just as the dream of performing idiocy becomes painful in the film.
The Idiots divided audiences. Throughout his entire career, which started with The Element of Crime (Forbrydelsens element) in 1984, Lars von Trier has managed to innovate, to push the limits of the possible and please and repel people simultaneously. In Denmark as well as abroad von Trier is regarded as the most respected and influential Danish film director since Carl Th. Dreyer.
Did you know?
As a young film school trainee, Lars von Trier was a production assistant at Nils Malmros' film Tree of Knowledge and, among other things, drove the children back and forth to recordings. Lars von Trier is otherwise known for wanting to work only with his own things. He was close to be thrown out of the Film School because, in connection with a course, he refused to do things that other instructors had written.
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Film, 2006
The Dogme film The Idiots is the most enigmatic film in this canon. The film is a surrealistic tale of a group of young people, who literally run around and make like idiots, and about Karen, for whom the group and its strange project becomes a mental lifeline in an unbearable, personal crisis.
The actual purpose of the group is lost in the unknown. Some want to provoke the establishment. Others get high on the experience of finding their inner idiot. The film presents the group’s peculiar project in a way that almost puckishly encourages interpretation of the ways of the world without itself revealing a viewpoint. However, the film’s principle underlying layer is the heart-breaking portrayal of the aspects of the inner individual that cannot be stated or shared with others, but despite this must constantly attempt to find a way out of the irremediable loneliness of the soul.
The simultaneous political and psychological ingredients are mixed together in a story that abruptly switches between intellectual satire and empathetic personal portrayals. The strength of the film lies in the manner in which the strongly allegorical and obviously constructed stories are told via scenes brought alive by authentic moments created by raw and intense acting. The film is carried by an ensemble of actors that since then have become some of their generation’s most popular, with Bodil Jørgensen, Anne Louise Hassing and Jens Albinus in the main roles. Placing the actors at the centre became one of the hallmarks of Dogme films. First and foremost, however, the film is Lars von Trier’s personal work.