The Idiots is the first movie Von Trier has made under Dogma 95 rules. Dogma 95 is a group, and a set of principles, he set up to create a new form of honest cinema. All members undertake a vow of chastity -- no artificial lighting; no tacked-on music; no scenes shot out of sequence; all films made with hand-held cameras; directors not credited. Dogma 95 has also been labelled a joke, an old fashioned piss-take for the intelligentsia. Even Von Trier's grandiose name has been called a provocation.
He has not helped matters in the past, declaring everything that has been said about his life a fiction and saying that he regards film-making as the ultimate in masturbation, his own pleasure being the sole goal.
In Denmark, Von Trier is feted, adored and ridiculed -- the genius as national laughing stock. Yes, Lars, this is all very well, they say, but when are we going to see the real you, the real Lars? And he looks baffled, a bit hurt, and says this is the real me. Maybe Von Trier is destined to be terminally misunderstood. Sure, he can play the buffoon, sure he's a tease, definitely a little bonkers, but he is also the most original and questing film-maker working in Europe today.
A far cry from the Von Trier of Eurotrash, dubbed in the classic upper-class twit's voice announcing there's nothing he'd rather make than a porn film. We're on the outskirts of Copenhagen in a disused military barracks stocked with long, brown buildings that look like chocolate bars. This is his new studio. It's silent. In the distance, I see Von Trier disappearing into what could be a cowshed with an alarmingly handsome man. It could be a spoof of a Carry On movie.
So I give chase. Thomas Vinterberg, Von Trier's protege, directed the first Dogma film, Festen -- a movie about family dysfunction that is as funny as it is harrowing. It's 1. I have to find somewhere for Thomas to live. If you come in here, and eat some of our cake and maybe have a coffee. Twenty minutes later Von Trier appears, apologises that he needs a pee so we'll be running a little late.
He's wearing a T-shirt tucked into his jeans, a shirt tucked into his T-shirt and a cravat tucked into the shirt -- a neatly packaged man. Maybe the cravat is one of those postmodern jokes I've been warned about. We pass his producer's office, crammed with awards from Cannes, Berlin and Venice, and arrive in an office stuffed with shabby family photos.
He hauls his legs on to the desk top and tells me that whatever people say, he's proud of The Idiots. I think it's the best film I've made What does he think the film is about? The seconds tick past, 20, 30, 40, then: "This doesn't translate very well in a newspaper does it? There is hope Many people would say it was the most hopeless, joyless film they have seen, but I know what he means.
In the same way that the traumatic Breaking The Waves is also perversely joyful and hopeful. Not in a logical way, not in a way you can begin to explain, just in the tiniest, most tender nuances.
On the other hand, Alexander Walker called The Idiots "a grotesque offence against the human condition". Who in their right mind would mock people with cerebral palsy and Down's syndrome? Actually, as a child, whenever I went on school trips, we would stick our heads out the back of the bus trying to convince people we were retarded.
A friend of mine tells me that at college he and his friends used to nick wheelchairs and waltz into town pretending to be mentally handicapped.
When people laughed, they screamed at them for their cruelty. Perhaps we've all done it. Occasionally Von Trier talks in the kind of warm, anecdotal riddles you find in his films.
He tells me about a white man who had a black adopted son. I tell him that at school I used to be called a "Yiddisher git" because I was Jewish and "nigger lips" because my lips were well-endowed. Von Trier stares at me. His mouth sags; it's almost a look of envy.
In one swoop, he lost his dad and his identity. Shortly afterwards, Von Trier's mother died. He never thought finding out about his non-biological father, whom he loved, would bother him but it did. Nor had he, or the family, been religious; it was just the sense of loss.
I think many Jews are like that. Victim is a good word. So I've been to concentration camps being a victim you know, and it kind of changes everything. It takes a while to realise this is Von Trier's muted self-conscious laughter. This pattern began with his first feature film, marking the beginning of The Europa Trilogy, though he claims a trilogy was not initially planned, instead being applied to the films in retrospect.
The Europe trilogy illuminated the traumas of Europe in the past and future. While all three films are sometimes associated with the Dogme 95 movement, only The Idiots is a certified Dogme 95 film. All three movies will be shot in the same distinctive style, on a bare sound stage with no set and buildings marked by lines on the floor.
This style is inspired by s televised theatre. The trilogy will consist of Dogville , Manderlay and the so far not produced Washington. The Depression Trilogy consists of Antichrist, Melancholia and the yet to be completed, Nymphomaniac.
All three star Charlotte Gainsbourg and deal with characters that deal with depression or grief in different ways. This trilogy is said to represent the current depression that von Trier himself is currently going through. Before she died, my mother told me to be happy that I was the son of this other man. She said my foster father had had no goals and no strength. But he was a loving man. And I was very sad about this revelation. And you then feel manipulated when you really do turn out to be creative.
I would have shown her. The slut! Denmark is a very Protestant country. Perhaps I only turned Catholic to piss off a few of my countrymen. What can I say? Unfortunately, von Trier's presentation is infantile and shallow.
One has the impression that the director has sought to defy and disrupt what he regards as bourgeois norms of behaviour and probity and bourgeois ways of filmmaking in the most provocative way possible. The result is messy and confused. At the same time the film evidently incorporates a number of autobiographical elements; to make sense of The Idiots it is useful to look more closely at the biography of its director.
In the Guardian a journalist notes that von Trier is the son of well-to-do parents who both worked for the social ministry in Copenhagen. His mother's job involved finding places to establish institutions for the mentally disabled, a fact which is directly echoed in a scene in The Idiots.
Von Trier's parents were political radicals in the s who apparently used to take the young Lars on demonstrations and look on approvingly as he broke US embassy windows. Von Trier's split with his parents included a rejection of their political conceptions.
Lars turned to Nietzsche, Strindberg and Bowie, and became increasingly attracted to the notion of faith. Along with Dreyer, another of von Trier's favourite film directors is the late Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who in his later films descended increasingly into religious millenarianism. One of von Trier's early films was the completion of a project originally planned by Dreyer himself, the filming of Medea, the classic Greek story of a mother who murders her children.
Von Trier's breakthrough to film prominence came with his film Breaking the Waves, the story of a oil rig worker badly wounded in an accident, who is saved by the faith and diligence of his devoted young wife.
She follows the orders of her sick husband to sleep with as many men as possible. She dies in the attempt—he is miraculously brought back to life. A filmmaker is not damned by his social background and is by no means fated to repeat his own or the mistakes of his parents, but von Trier's development as a filmmaker is, in many respects, not accidental and certainly not exceptional. On the basis of The Idiots, one concludes that he is evidently motivated by a dislike, even a disgust for society as it stands.At the press conference with Danish journalists, there were no problems, but I do not think the international journalists understand my Danish humor. Dogma 95 has also been labelled a joke, an old fashioned piss-take for the intelligentsia. It opened him up as a person. There is something a bit provincial in all this, but von Trier seems to be espousing the notion, popular during the radicalisation of the s, that mental disorder represents a higher and superior form of perception. It wasn't exactly a mental hospital. However, it is important to note that while The Idiots adheres to some of the Dogma rules, it flagrantly flouts others, such as the use of porn actor stand-ins for the sex scene, and the use of filters in post-production.
Some scholars have argued for the ethical merit of The Idiots because of the way that it refrains from supplying easy answers to such questions, insisting that it is up to spectators to chart these muddy waters for ourselves. What are they called in English? Sure, he can play the buffoon, sure he's a tease, definitely a little bonkers, but he is also the most original and questing film-maker working in Europe today. However, her capacity for empathy and her ability to confront her family in such a raw and profound way clearly moves beyond the hollow version of masculine provocation embodied by Stoffer. If a ghost came in here and we could see it we'd be very very relieved because it meant somehow there was meaning to the whole thing. Share via Email The phobic film-maker Lars Von Trier made one of his rare public appearances last week.
But they were not prepared to do that.
At the same time he is apparently blind to any way of changing society in a meaningful way. The Edinburgh film festival dismissed The Idiots as a joke that wasn't worth any sensible audience's two hours. Actually, as a child, whenever I went on school trips, we would stick our heads out the back of the bus trying to convince people we were retarded.
Music: Kim Kristensen. The idiot, he explains is the man of the future—the key to happiness is to liberate the inner idiot, to let the inner idiot out. He filled his days with obsessions, acting, directing, and passing exams.
Even Von Trier's grandiose name has been called a provocation. Dancer in the Dark was the final component of the trilogy.