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A pre-Chanel Carole Bouquet stars in Werner Schroeter's wildly stylish, taboo-busting madhouse drama.
Drawn to "her bitter voice, her petrified face," Schroeter cast a pre-Chanel Carole Bouquet as a rich young woman who ends up in an asylum after falsely reporting an innocent to the police as a terrorist. (The film was made near the height of Germany's anxiety over Baader-Meinhof terrorism.) Clearly relishing the "snake pit" tradition of asylum films, Day of the Idiots flies way over the cuckoo's nest, alighting on some distant planet of madness; even the overseer of the sanctuary, played with smoke-wreathed severity by Fassbinder regular Ingrid Caven, keeps a severed foot in a jar of formaldehyde on her desk. "Practically all the taboos of erotic moviegoing are broken in Day of the Idiots," Variety sniffed when the film debuted in competition at Cannes, and indeed Bouquet and her sister lunatics undergo all manner of bodily anointment. ("She never stops pissing!" cries one inmate after another lets sluice a Niagara of urine.) That Bouquet escapes the asylum, only to beg to return because the world outside is far colder and crazier, captures Schroeter's sense of society-wide psychosis. Interjecting sequences of ballroom dancing to the clatter of xylophones, this wildly stylish film features "Carole Bouquet's career-best performance as a woman well beyond the verge of a nervous breakdown that gives the film its icy erotic charge" (Chuck Stephens, Film Comment).