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The Element of Crime (1984)
"Forbrydelsens element" (original title)

Not Rated  |   |  Crime, Drama, Thriller  |  14 May 1984 (Denmark)
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 6,463 users  
Reviews: 40 user | 50 critic

A cop in a dystopian Europe investigates a serial killings suspect using controversial methods written by his now disgraced former mentor.


(as Lars Von Trier)


, (dialogue translation), 2 more credits »
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12 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Me Me Lai ...
Kim (as Meme Lai)
Jerold Wells ...
Ahmed El Shenawi ...
Astrid Henning-Jensen ...
House Keeper
János Herskó ...
Coroner (as Janos Hersko)
Stig Larsson ...
Coroner's Assistant
Harry Harper ...
Portier 1
Roman Moszkowicz ...
Portier 2
Schmuck of Ages (as Lars Von Trier)
Frederik Casby ...
White Policeman
Duke Addabayo ...
Black Policeman
Jon Bang Carlsen ...
Angry Policeman (as Jon Bang-Carlsen)
Leif Magnusson ...
Hotel Guest


Fisher, an ex-cop, returns to his old beat somewhere in northern Europe after a thirteen-year hiatus in Cairo. His former mentor and role model, author of a treatise called "The Element of Crime", asks him to solve a series of murders involving lottery ticket sellers. Guided by the theories put forth in the book, Fischer retraces the steps of a suspect, Harry Grey, as recorded in a three-year-old police surveillance report. Written by Eddi Sommer <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama | Thriller


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

14 May 1984 (Denmark)  »

Also Known As:

The Element of Crime  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The first film in Lars von Trier's 'Europa' trilogy which illuminates the traumas of Europe in the future. The two other parts are Epidemic (1987) and Europa (1991). See more »


[first lines]
Therapist: [to Fisher] Fantasy is OK, but my job to keep you on the right track. We are after the facts. You seem to return to Cairo and me whenever you have a problem. Two months ago you left Cairo, your wife, everything for a police job in Europe. Now you are back haunted by headaches. If you want me to help you get rid of these headaches, we must go back two months in the time. Back to where it all started. All I know... Europe has become an obsession for you.
See more »


Featured in Lars von Trier Anecdotes (2005) See more »


Der Letzte Tourist in Europa
By Mogens Dam, Henrik Blichmann
Translated by Waltraut Andersen
Sung by Sonja Kehler
See more »

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User Reviews

Groundbreaking use of cinematic styles and expressions
23 September 2006 | by (The Dutch Mountains) – See all my reviews

Some called it the kick in the pants cinema needed, the savior of cinema and work of genius. Others find Lars von Trier's debut feature unbearably pretentious and consider this a beautiful but utterly empty work of art. Whatever your opinion will be after seeing this film, you're almost guaranteed to have strong feelings about it afterwards and will almost force you to reconsider the possibilities of the medium of film once again.

Shot in English, ELEMENT OF CRIME was the first film in the Europe-trilogy, followed by EPIDEMIC (1987) and ZENTROPA (1991) and is best described as a futuristic neo-noir crime thriller. Von Trier never intended this film to be part of a trilogy. He only came up with that concept right before filming on ZENTROPA started. Actually, the three films are all very different and the only thing they have in common is a vaguely defined theme of "Europe" (practically all the films made in Europe deal with the subject in some way) and that they all start with the letter E. It's a practical joke to give his films some extra cachet, just as he's doing with his America-trilogies now. Set in the near future, the film gives an apocalyptic view of a decayed and demonic Europe, stunningly photographed in yellow and sepia colours with a vision of constant darkness (no ray of light whatsoever in the film), abandoned buildings and almost constant rain. Police detective Fisher is called in to solve a series of murders of small girls. In the process he gradually comes to realize that he must follow in the footsteps of the assumed murderer, finally completing the murderous pattern himself.

Von Trier's passion about Europe is almost exclusively a deep and long-going fascination with Germany, the catalyst of modern history, that has been the defining factor in Europe's faith for most of the twentieth century. This film, as ZENTROPA and to a lesser extent EPIDEMIC, paint the apocalyptic picture of a world, resemblant of post-war Germany, with not just the physical damage involved, but with people who were emotionally battered as well. It's one thing to lose your belongings, even your relatives, but they didn't just lose everything they had, they lost morally as well. Von Trier presents to us a sort of neitherworld where morals are discarded and people are merely trying to survive.

Not an easy film, to be sure. It was rewarded with a technical prize at Cannes in 1984, but was denied the grand jury prize, mainly because of Dirk Bogarde, who headed the jury, and reportedly was appalled by the film. He thought von Trier wanted to put an end to cinema and destroy the medium of film altogether. He threatened to pull out of the jury, if the film got any prizes. Apparently, they somehow managed to give the film this award for technical achievements. Relatively harmless and who would notice anyway? In interviews Von Trier blatantly claims that his film was historically by far the most important that year and this claim can arguably be protracted for a considerable longer period of time.

Could this film be recommended for your enjoyment or regular entertainment value? No, it can't. But most movies can't. Historically however, this film is important, if there ever was one. This one of the few examples of a film that poses real questions about the way we judge film. Perhaps it's best enjoyed, and I don't want to sound pretentious myself here, by the more experienced moviegoer and for me the film worked best the second or third time I saw it. Upon it's first release in Denmark, half the people - even ardent cinema lovers - were running for the exits within the first half hour.

To the horror of many and delight of some, it's already a staple for students at many film academies, and understandably so. The film is an innovative panache of cinematic styles and expressions, gorgeous sets, the yellow lighting (they used very powerful natrium lights) and stuffed with references and allusions to earlier cinema, like Andrei Tarkovsky and BLADE RUNNER. Any reference to Tarkovsky will probably have the other half still watching running for the exits as well, but cinematic literacy is easily misunderstood.

Not my favorite or the most enjoyable in any sense, so one star off because of the silly detective story and the sometimes over-pretentiousness, otherwise a stunning work of visual art. I think everyone with an interest in cinema should see this film.

Camera Obscura --- 9/10

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