Aug 21, 2013

Day of the Idiots

If there ever was a chick flick for schizophrenics and/or scat-inclined Sapphos, it is most certainly the fittingly titled work Day of the Idiots (1981) aka Tag der Idioten directed by Teutonic dandy Werner Schroeter (Eika Katappa, Der Bomberpilot). While a vocal proponent of Schroeter’s work myself, Day of the Idiots is certainly a celluloid work I cannot stomach or so I learned after a second failed viewing of the film. Despite being nominated for a Golden Palm Award at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival and winning “best film” at the 1982 German Film Awards and ultimately being one of Schroeter’s most critically successful works, Day of the Idiots disgusts me in a way that can only be described as the metaphysical equivalent of barfing my favorite cuisine as a work that, although directed by one of my favorite directors of high-camp surrealist kitsch and featuring one of my favorite kraut divas (Ingrid Caven), rubs me the wrong way, sort of the way I would expect an autistic Star Wars fan to react after watching a Pasolini marathon. Starring French actress Carole Bouquet, who is probably best known by fans of European cinema for starring in Luis Buñuel's classic surrealist satire That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) and penned by politician/journalist and one-time screenwriter Dana Horaková, who was married to Czech New Wave auteur Pavel Juráček and later apparently became a ‘Minister of Culture’ for the city of Hamburg from 2002-2004, Day of the Idiots is nauseatingly neurotic celluloid estrogen on overdrive directed by an especially eccentrically effete fellow who, more often than not, was far too in tune with his effeminate side and this celluloid work is certainly the most glaring and grating example of the filmmaker's female soul. The morbidly morose and melancholy psychodramatic tale of a decidedly deranged dame who is so obsessed with getting her boyfriend’s love and attention that she decides to call in false allegations denouncing her neighbors as terrorists to authorities so she can be institutionalized, Day of the Idiots is essentially a psychological fantasy flick for emotionally-wrecked women who romantically dream of suicide and/or are into lesbian urolagnia. If you ever wanted to see a Bond Girl (star Carole Bouquet played Bond girl Melina Havelock in For Your Eyes Only (1981) right before Schroeter’s flick) fall into in to operatic and phantasmagorical psychodrama at a patently perverse psych-ward before inevitably deciding to commit self-slaughter by running into traffic and being plowed down by a car, Day of the Idiots might be the film for you, but I doubt it, because the film ultimately sounds more cinematically tantalizing than it actually is. 

 Despite her debilitating depression, crazy ‘cutie’ Carole Schneider (Carole Bouquet) must love the skin she lives in because she is constantly tearing off her clothes and walking around her flat naked. Unfortunately for her, Carole must also tear off her lazy boyfriend Alexander’s (played by Mostefa Djadjam, who looks like a director Werner Schroeter if he were a dirty Arab) clothes off just to get him to share some good old carnal knowledge with him. In fact, Carole fantasizes about cutting out a piece of her boyfriend’s skull and placing a little window there so she “can see if he really loves me,” or so she says to herself while in some sort of perturbing psychosis. While ostensibly in public, Carole cries out “Alexander must look at me!” in vain as her self-centered boyfriend is nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, her simple demands from her bastard of a boy toy go unanswered, as she later begs for Alexander to “Kill me! Please!,” which also proves to be unfruitful. Luckily terrorism is big in Deutschland and Carole comes up with an absolutely brilliant plan to falsely denounce her neighbors to the police as conspiring terrorists, which ultimately gets her locked in a creepily curious and quaint quasi-lesbo loony bin. While in the nightmarish nuthouse, Carole discovers that things are much more interesting than in the ‘free’ world as she encounters suicide, post-menopausal women playing with dolls, Catholic weddings, imaginary ballroom dancing, amputated legs/feet in glass cases, female-on-female water-sports, collapsing walls, and a variety of others things that might cross the mind of a schizophrenic. With decidedly deranged nurses and doctors, including a certain Dr. Laura (played by Fassbinder’s ex-wife/Daniel Schmid’s diva Ingrid Caven), who seem hardly distinguishable from the inmates aside from their uniforms, Carole is hardly cured by her experiences in the meta-mental hospital, but only all the more sure that there is no society that she is fit to live in as an alienated modern woman with nothing nor no one to live for. Carole seems to ultimately come to the conclusion that she is not suffering from any serious form of mental illness, but that she cannot simply function in society, be it among the public or among imprisoned perverts, so she to take her future (or lack thereof) into her own hands. When the walls of the loony bin begin to literally fall down, Carole realizes there is nowhere to hide and after being set free by Dr. Laura she decides to commit suicide by running in front of oncoming traffic and being plowed down by a random unfortunate stranger in a small European car.  In the end, the melancholy expression on Carole's corpse seems no different than when she was 'alive.'

 A sometimes wanton and always wildly weird celluloid tale about a woman under the influence of too much Weltschmerz, Day of the Idiots is, at best, a haunting and hallucinogenic celluloid psychodrama about a hysterical female mind that cannot deal with the dispiriting nature of post-WWII Europa and, at worse, the innately incoherent and discombobulating piece of lavish cinematic angst concocted by a kraut queen auteur who rightfully deserves a place in film history as German New Cinema’s foremost miserable sodomite. Though featuring an aesthetically exquisite and idiosyncratically nightmarish hodgepodge of meticulously assembled tableaux, Day of the Idiots ultimately seems like a bad parody of Schroeter’s own idiosyncratic brand of hyper-aestheticism as a sort of ugly and slightly retarded celluloid stepsister to the filmmaker’s later ‘mainstream’ effort Malina (1991) starring Isabelle Huppert. Unfortunately, while Day of the Idiots lead Carole Bouquet may have much fuller breasts than her French compatriot Huppert, she has nowhere near the same acting chops, thus making her performance seem not much more nuanced than that of a mannequin, and also making the actress more suitable for Schroeter’s early masterpiece Der Tod der Maria Malibran (1972) aka The Death of Maria Malibran, where most of the actresses simply strike simple poses and maintain the same facial expressions. Indeed, there seems to be a potential ‘high-camp horror’ masterpiece lost somewhere in Day of the Idiots and I personally hold banal babe Bouquet partially responsible for the film's seemingly half-aborted essence. Made in the wake of the far-leftist terrorist era in West Germany that reached its peak in 1977 and was famously seriously commented on with the omnibus film Germany in Autumn (1978) aka Deutschland im Herbst by a number of major directors of German New Cinema, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Volker Schlöndorff, and Edgar Reitz, Day of the Idiots ultimately acts as Werner Schroeter’s unofficial reaction to the Fatherland in ‘fall.’ Not unlike Germany in Autumn, Day of the Idiots, though having many of the ingredients to be a unique and unmitigated masterpiece, also feels like a postmodern Teutonic arthouse abortion. 

-Ty E

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