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The Element of Crime (1984)

Forbrydelsens element (original title)
Not Rated | | Crime, Drama, Thriller | 14 May 1984 (Denmark)
A cop in a dystopian Europe investigates a serial killings suspect using controversial methods written by his now disgraced former mentor.

Director:

Lars von Trier (as Lars Von Trier)

Writers:

Niels Vørsel, William Quarshie (dialogue translation) | 2 more credits »
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12 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

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

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 <eddi@gmd.de>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Thriller

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

Denmark

Language:

English | Arabic

Release Date:

14 May 1984 (Denmark) See more »

Also Known As:

The Element of Crime See more »

Filming Locations:

Denmark See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #80. See more »

Quotes

[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 »

Connections

Referenced in Anecdotes from 'Europa' (2005) See more »

Soundtracks

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

 
the crazy European murder investigate blues of Lars von Trier
26 February 2010 | by MisterWhiplashSee all my reviews

Few feature-directorial debuts can astound so greatly and at the same time puzzle so much in a sense of the macabre. The Element of Crime relishes, bathes in the unusual in cinematographic technique, while giving new meaning to a science-fiction 'neo-noir'. The plot seems simple enough: man on a case to hunt down a killer, and using a code called the 'Element of Crime' to get into the headspace of the killer, follows a list of 'trailing' of the killer to get to him step-by-step. The cop, Fisher, is so wrapped up in the case that it starts to bleed into the rest of the environment around him, a barren landscape with criminals all over the place and a architectural sense of madness (anarchy, we're told, rules over freedom in this unnamed city).

It is simple enough, and at times von Trier gives us information to keep to where it's going. But it's strangely a hard story to follow because of how much the director is fond much more of the technique at his disposal. This is an experiment that makes Alphaville look comfy. It's slow camera movements, sometimes echoing (if not outright ripping off) the sense of the calm, meditative movement of Tarkovsky's Stalker. And some of the movements and manner of speaking of the characters just go off the wall. Nothing is of the usual here, and the actors perform their lines, while very well, sometimes in a trance. Other times we get the narration, of sorts, between Fisher and his former boss or other back in Cairo. It is a story that does dig into the mystery, and we can follow it with some engagement, but that's not fully, I think, von Trier's intention.

What he does, as a precursor of his future work, is to get us in a state of mind. Some will want to walk away from it, and I don't blame you if you do. Element of Crime confronts the viewer without doing a talk-to-the-camera moment. It's about the tone and look of the piece, its sepia decay, a view of Europe that is about as hopeful as an orphan bonfire. And yet it is incredibly compelling in how von Trier gets us, as a filmmaker, interesting in what happens in this world. It's got a confounding beauty and horrific wonder about it, an expressionist going through a somber melody that is far from 'entertaining', but carries an artistic pulse that is frighteningly alive. That it also carries the guts of a hardboiled film-noir always lurking in the shadows marks it as a hybrid. Perhaps it's like a fever dream of one of those stories or movies where an anti-hero is fully transformed and made damned.

The Element of Crime made me weirded out at certain points, and horrified by some of the extremes shown (i.e. the death of a horse, a constantly rotating camera around Fisher in manic pain, a glass breaking in a shot that seems to be from another one). Certain times I almost didn't know whether I loved it or hated it. By the end, after stewing about it for a while, I realized I was in the middle. It's a film I'll want to return to, and I'll be curious to see my own response to it - a rich film of dark, even mortifying shades.


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