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Element of Crime

A movie directed by Lars von Trier

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One of Lars Von Trier's best films; and even THAT is saying PLENTY.

  • Jul 13, 2011
**** out of ****

"The Element of Crime" is a modern film-noir so fascinating, that the mere experience of watching it almost cannot be described. You cannot truly absorb all of its contents on one viewing; and I imagine that it keeps improving each time one revisits it. The film is a visual feast, a surrealist's joint, and also the film debut of Lars Von Trier. Now, that's a name you may know. The man is a lover and attractor of controversy; something that he embraces rather than resents. Here is a man that makes the films he wants to make, regardless of what others think. Some people believe these aspects of the man to be signs of pure pretension, but I see him as a "dark artist", as I often call him when referring to my first outing with a Von Trier film, "Antichrist".

If you have seen a Lars Von Trier film, but have not seen this one, then allow me to assure you that for the better or for the worst, "The Element of Crime" is no different than any of the great director's other films. It requires a certain audience and a certain state of mind to truly appreciate it, and you either love it or you hate it. It's not particularly difficult to imagine someone despising this thing to death, but there will also be those who admire it for the craft and skill that went into it. Me, I think it is kind of brilliant. It has a disturbing atmosphere, its style is intoxicating and rich, and it's a damn fine modern noir.

When I say the film requires a certain audience, I mean that it is not for everyone. If you have a taste or love for surrealist films, then you will probably enjoy watching the film. I also imagine that if you enjoy classic detective novels, you will also find some good influence and references here. Von Trier takes influence from Hitchcock films, and many other novels. He probably read them all; saw them all. He manages to cram so much into this divisive little debut picture, and it turns out to be something beyond comprehension. It is one-of-a-kind.

Detective Fisher (Michael Elphick) undergoes hypnosis methods to remember his most recent case. The case takes place in a dystopian, almost apocalyptic Europe; where a serial killer is targeting young women (particularly the ones who sell lottery tickets). I suppose this is how the killer got the name of "The Lotto Killer".

Fisher understands that standard detective methods cannot solve this crime; cannot bring the criminal to justice. This is why he consults the titular novel, "The Element of Crime", which contains highly controversial methods when it comes to criminal justice. The book suggests that perhaps the detective must think like a killer in order to understand him; because if you can understand a criminal, then you can most certainly capture him, can't you?

The story plays out like some sort of anti-self-journey into insanity. It's not a tale that I'm particularly used to hearing, but I've heard it somewhere, and whether it's original or not, "The Element of Crime" strikes me as twisted, haunting genius. There's something ominous about the way the film moves; slowly, with dialogue that is as dragging as its pacing. If you don't mind that, then you will be entertained and perhaps even intrigued by Von Trier's film. Some might not find it as perfect as I do, but I hope I've said enough to convince you to see it as it is.

The film's visual style consists of sodium light. The colors are mostly consisting of reds and oranges, with blue occasionally showing up to crank up the level of surrealism even higher. Von Trier designs his film as a dream; one moment a fascinating one, another moment a frightening and disturbing one. The film is unforgettable, expansive, and inventive. I have never seen another one quite like it, although there are many that might try to mimic its style. No two films are exactly the same, but some are so alike that it is hard to be entertained by one or the other. We will always need new images; new visual masters, and Von Trier is what I believe to be one for the new age. "The Element of Crime" does not only contain new and provoking images, but also ideas, concepts, direction, and writing; each equally as fascinating as the other. And that, in my opinion, is true beauty.

"Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink."

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July 13, 2011
You can never do no wrong with Von Trier.....enjoyed reading your observations about its surrealism.
More Element of Crime reviews
review by . March 17, 2010
Pros: Setting      Cons: Everything but setting      The Bottom Line: YAWN, find any other von Trier film and watch it twice. Then you can say that, by count, you have seen all of them.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. When I see or hear the word “stylized” for a film I am immediately suspicious. I can generally rely on the foundation that make Peter Greenaway’s films …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


Danish director Lars von Trier's debut feature film--also his first English-language effort--is an extremely hypnotic, moody thriller. The story opens in the desert of Egypt, where police detective Leopold Fisher (Michael Elphick) is hypnotized and asked to recount the recent events of his life. It seems that Fisher has been called back to a small town where he has previously spent time in order to investigate the brutal murders of several little girls who sell lottery tickets. He reunites with his mentor, Osborne (Esmond Night), the writer of a controversial book entitled THE ELEMENT OF CRIME, in which he recommends that investigators adopt the point of view of killers in order to better predict subsequent tragedies. When Fisher meets Kim (Meme Lei), a beautiful young woman, the pair embarks on a journey that begins to blur the line between Fisher's simulated killer and the real thing. <br> <br> Von Trier's film is a bold exercise in style, using hypnotism to support the slowly unfolding story. Visuall...
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Director: Lars von Trier
Release Date: 1985
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: Criterion Collection (September 19, 2000)
Runtime: 1hr 44min
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