Let it Drool

Of schizophrenic cops and therapy groups turned communes

Danish director Lars von Trier is one of the most important filmmakers working today; without question, on the level of form he's one of the most consistently provocative. It's a little less certain, though, just how smart he is—or, perhaps, how smart he believes his audience to be. The Idiots, which premiered to both hostility and rapture at Cannes in 1998 (his latest film, Dancer in the Dark, received a similar reception this year, plus the grand prize), is an often extremely funny, compulsively watchable and, finally, conceptually anemic film about a group of people who pretend to be mentally retarded. Since a lot of comedy depends on characters behaving with incredible stupidity, it seems something of a cheat for von Trier to milk laughs out of nominally normal people miming the nominally abnormal, which is precisely the point.

"They're searching for their inner idiot," explains Stoffer (Jens Albinus), the de facto leader of the titular therapy group-cum-commune. His listener is an understandably confused newcomer, Karen (Bodil Jorgensen), one of von Trier's saucer-eyed, emotionally fragile women whose purity of soul is rewarded with a slightly blunted intelligence. It isn't long before Karen, too, is "spassing" out with the rest of the robust, good-looking assemblage, converging on an unsuspecting world with arm-flapping, eyeball-rolling and sprays of spittle, all of which work the players into something of an erotic lather, a mass sublimation that eventually culminates in an impressively vigorous gangbang. (Although most of the world can watch this hardcore action uncensored, our very own idiots at the MPAA, Jack Valenti, et al., have insured that in the United States, male genitals and sexual acts are blocked out. The women, of course, can be viewed totally nude.)

Shot Dogma-style with hand-held cameras without the benefits or distraction of artificial lights and superfluous music, The Idiots is framed as a documentary. Every so often, you see some camera equipment or a boom peeping into a shot, and the whole thing flips back and forth between the cavorting idiots and talking-head shots of the group members discussing the howsand whysof their relationships. That the interpersonal dynamics, the group's self-therapy, sound like the games that actors play as part of their preparation is unsurprising. What is surprising—and disappointing—is a scene in which some actual retarded people join the idiots for an afternoon and blow their hosts away just by the fact of being retarded. In that moment, the film fetishizes the authentically retarded instead of treating them simply as human beings, and von Trier, who used two retarded people to introduce each episode of his television mini-series, The Kingdom, becomes guilty of the very prejudice that his film has so obviously tried to subvert. It's too bad—the rest of it is hilarious.

me, myself & irene was directed by Bobby and peter farrelly; written by peter farrelly, mike cerrone and bobby farrelly; produced by bradley thomas, bobby farrelly and peter farrelly; and stars jim carrey and renée Zellweger. Now playing countywide; The idiots was Written and directed by Lars von trier; produced by vibeke windelov and von trier; and stars jens albinus and bodil Jorgensen. Now playing at select theaters.

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