Group sex film passed by censor

A HIGHLY controversial Danish film in which the characters pretend to be retarded and engage in some of the most explicit sex scenes outside the world of hard-core movies has been cleared for cinema release by the British Board of Film Classification.

The uncut version of Lars Von Trier's The Idiots, a comedy about a commune of young people who isolate themselves by pretending to be mentally ill or retarded, features a fleeting sexual penetration scene and erect penises in a group sex sequence. It premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival on a wave of notoriety about its copious sex and nudity.

Although it received a further screening at the London Film Festival last November, there were doubts about whether it would receive the all- clear for a national cinema release in its unabridged form.

The film's UK distributor, Metro Tartan, submitted The Idiots for classification at the beginning of December and its relatively swift sanction marks the second significant decision by Robin Duval, who took over as director of the BBFC from James Ferman four weeks ago.

The fact that Mr Duval has wasted little time in both approving The Idiots and granting The Exorcist a video release will be seen by many in the film industry as evidence of the new regime's determination to act decisively rather than let difficult issues drag on indefinitely, as has happened in the past with films such as Crash.

Although the sight of penetrative sex and erect penises is not unprecedented in British high street cinemas - the 1991 Japanese film In the Realm of the Senses featured both, - it is extremely rare.

The other likely area of controversy relates to the depiction of the mentally ill and disabled. As well as the pretence adopted by the film's central characters, The Idiots also includes extras who are genuinely disabled.

Mr Duval said: "The first issue was whether the film would be offensive to people with genuine disabilities and that required a lot of thought.

"The conclusion which we arrived at was that the approach was sensitive and positive. In no sense was it insensitive or parodic of people with genuine disabilities."

Sophie Tranchell, managing director of Metro Tartan, said: "The film works as a whole. If you watch it for half-an-hour, you will come away with the wrong impression. The people who pretend to be disabled are revealing their inner idiot. The film is more about the limitations of middle-class manners. If you are cracking up inside is it more useful to hold it in or let it out? It's about inhibitions, that's why there's so much nudity."

Mr Von Trier has a reputation as an enfant terrible of contemporary cinema. He directed the 1996 film Breaking the Waves, which earned an Oscar nomination for the actress Emily Watson and his horror series The Kingdom was shown on British television recently.

The Idiots is the first product of Dogme 95,directors who agreed to make films under strict rules, including shooting all scenes on location, using natural light and hand-held cameras. This "vow of chastity" is an attempt, they say, to return to a pure cinema, stripped of technical trickery. During the making of The Idiots, Mr Von Trier insisted on nude days when everyone, cast, crew and director, all went naked.

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