Whether depicting sexual degradation as religious martyrdom in Breaking The Waves or fusing bleak kitchen-sink melodrama with the blissful escapism of the Hollywood musical in Dancer In The Dark, Lars von Trier has often straddled the line separating audacious provocation from foolhardy recklessness. Von Trier crossed that line with 1998's The Idiots, a controversial comedy-drama only now being released on home video. Like Spike Lee's similarly misbegotten Bamboozled, The Idiots' premise is horribly misguided in theory and even worse in practice: The director's only Dogma 95-certified film centers on a group of adult dropouts who rebel against bourgeois society by pretending to be mentally impaired. Into this abrasive mixture of cult, experimental theater group, and summer camp from hell wanders Bodil Jørgensen, a middle-aged, deeply unhappy wallflower who finds in the group the acceptance and sense of family missing from her own life. Inspired equally by a regressive desire to escape the complexities of the adult world and by contempt for bourgeois concepts of appropriate behavior, the group is led by Jens Albinus, a mean-spirited tyrant perpetually suspicious of other members' commitment to his ideology. But the group and the film don't seem to have any real ideology; instead, both appear concerned primarily with evoking a visceral response from their audiences. The Idiots fails even at that: As much as it would like to incite and infuriate, it primarily inspires boredom, a condition only intensified by poor pacing, near-constant tonal incongruities, and a bloated running time. The film feels like von Trier's Metal Machine Music, a work of grating provocation for its own sake from an artist ballsy and respected enough to get away with it.

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