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A group of 20 and 30 year olds embark on a series of ‘spassing’ (acting as if disabled) attacks on their community, from the comfort of a large house as their base, owned by a relative of chief ‘spasser’ Stoffer (Jens Albinus). The objective is to play the idiot (as the word originally intends) and find your own private idiot persona. They try to live out the excesses and the aggression, the curiosity and unbridled childishness inherent in some mentally handicapped people, as well as the primitive sexual urges. We are introduced to the group by a sad and lonely woman who gets caught up in an early ‘spassing’ and ends up going along with the group for her own, sad reasons – as we eventually discover, in the emotional climax that also marks the breaking up of the group.

"First off, I gotta warn you: if you are planning to see The Idiots because you loved Breaking the Waves by Lars, don’t do it without a bit more research. It’s not the sequel. This film can be seen as revolutionary – both in its bravura, anti-bourgeois attitude, and its Dogma production ethic. Or it can be seen as totally misguided in both. I tend toward the latter. Its revolutionary idea is out of date, as far as I’m concerned, and its filmmaking ethos is contrived and ill-conceived. It’s like a surgeon refusing to use lasers for eye surgery in the belief that a hand held scalpel is a more 'real' tool. Well, for starters, if you’re going to shoot a two hour drama on hand held camera, get Greg. Greg Kay is my cameraman on the SBS TV series Front Up, which involves shooting interviews in the street for up to a full day at a time (lunch break 40 minutes) and him hoisting the camera on his right shoulder for the entire day. He gets a lot steadier result than this film has managed, which is a problem for the eyes. But this is the least of its miscalculations. Parading ‘spassing’ as a form of idiocy that is akin to innocence is woefully wrong, and we can sense it. These people are not making a social statement. They’re being …stupid…. idiotic. (Note to marketing: should have called it Stupid and Stupider…) But if that’s the point, it’s way too slim for a movie length gurgle. There are moments, though, that resonate, and near the end, some emotional buttons are pressed, and pressed well, but all out of context of the preceding proceedings. Had Lars von Trier chosen a different metaphor for the search for a key to make an impact or alter or lives (society?) he may have achieved a better result. What we have here, I feel, is a desperate attempt to be different, with all the angst ridden psycho-dribble of a creative European sensibility that fears its own irrelevance in contemporary Western civilisation. And don’t think I’m being too hard here: Lars once told me in an interview he saw himself as "a masturbator of the silver screen." He’s honest, as well as talented and maybe benignly crazy. He’s looking for something – give him time."
Andrew L. Urban

"About fifteen minutes into The Idiots I asked myself 'why was this film made' and spent the next 102 minutes searching fruitlessly for an answer. Lars Trier (he added the 'Von' himself) is the P.T. Barnum of contemporary cinema; asking us to witness the cinematic equivalent of the showman's famous 'Egress' exhibition only for us to discover, like Barnum's paying customers, that it's all a con and there is actually nothing to see. What does he hope to achieve by offering up a group of middle-class types who get their kicks by acting the fool in public? A plea for understanding by psychologically embattled individuals rejecting an increasingly depersonalised world? An expose of traditional society's complacency and hypocricy ? Or a desire simply to elicit our nervous reactions by exposing us to anxiety provoking situations. Whatever his aims this utterly stupid film grows tiresome very quickly and not even the aura of being made under the guidelines of the Dogma 95 manifesto can instill any interest. It's not even that offensive to the handicapped; it's offensive because it lacks a reason to exist other than as a private joke amongst those who made it. Unbelievably boring, intellectually empty and headache-inducing to watch (two hours of hand held camera is my idea of purgatory) The Idiots unmasks (Von) Trier as the pretentious huckster hinted at in previous films but this time the pathetically shallow joke isn't even funny."
Richard Kuipers

"As I’ve suggested before, Lars von Trier is a filmmaker who likes to work within a system of arbitrary, self-imposed rules – the latest example being his ‘realist’ manifesto Dogma ‘95. In all von Trier’s films, these artificial constraints tend to place the narrative in ironic quotes, allowing him to exploit various racy themes (sex, religious angst, fascism) while keeping his dandyish distance. It’s a strategy founded on posturing and bad faith – which, as it happens, is what his new movie is all about. Do the characters’ similarly arbitrary antics constitute some kind of valid protest or artistic statement, or are they really just a bunch of idiots? Implicitly the director asks the same question of himself, with unsettling results. Despite his claim to have found inspiration in the youthful energy of the French New Wave, this is a heavy and oppressive film that’s far from pleasurable to watch. Von Trier has abandoned the precise visual style of his previous work (including his control over color) for a deliberate, strident artlessness. There’s something physically sickening about the shaky, blown-up video image, the electronic glare of grass and sky, the wandering camera that lurches in and out of focus while the actors drool and carry on. The boring and repetitive scenes of ‘spassing’ that occupy most of the movie suggest a bad performance art project and tend to alienate the cinema audience as well as the ‘normal’ society within the film. But then, it's von Trier’s queasy, shameless idiocy that makes the whole enterprise somehow compelling – and by the time we reach the distressing final scenes, it’s hard to be sure who the idiots really are."
Jake Wilson

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CAST: Bodil Jorgensen, Jens Albinus, Louise Hassing, Troels Lyby, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Henrik Prip, Luis Mesonero, Louise Mieroitz, Knud Romer Jorgensen, Trine Michelsen, Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis

SCRIPT: Lars von Trier


PRODUCER: Vibeke Windelov

EDITOR: Molly Malene Stensgaard

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes



AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 26, 1999 Sydney & Melbourne

FESTIVALS: Official Competition, 1998 Cannes Film Festival.

NOTE: This is a film made under the 'Vow of Purity that governs Dogma films. Dogma is a collective of film directors formed in Copenhagen in 1995 as a reaction against "the technological storm raging in the world of film production." The Vow includes (among other things) a promise by the filmmaker to shoot on location only, not use props that have to be brought in and to use only natural lighting – and a hand held camera at all times. And - the director must not be credited.

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