49 user 57 critic

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.


Lars von Trier (as Lars Von Trier)


Niels Vørsel, William Quarshie (dialogue translation) | 2 more credits »

On Disc

at Amazon

12 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »


Learn more

More Like This 

Epidemic (1987)
Drama | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.1/10 X  

A director and screenwriter pen a script and, in the process, blur the line between fiction and reality.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Allan De Waal, Ole Ernst, Michael Gelting
Europa (1991)
Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

Just after W.W.II, an American takes a railway job in Germany, but finds his position politically sensitive with various people trying to use him.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Barbara Sukowa, Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier
Medea (TV Movie 1988)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

Medea is in Corinth with Jason and their two young sons. King Kreon wants to reward Jason for his exploits: he gives the hand of his daughter, Glauce, to Jason as well as the promise of the... See full summary »

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Udo Kier, Kirsten Olesen, Henning Jensen
Drama | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.2/10 X  

A German officer visits his Danish mistress the days after the occupation of Denmark has ended.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Edward Fleming, Kirsten Olesen
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  

An IT company hires an actor to serve as the company's president in order to help the business get sold to a cranky Icelander.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Jens Albinus, Peter Gantzler, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson
Idioterne (1998)
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

The group of people gather at the house in Copenhagen suburb to break all the limitations and to bring out the "inner idiot" in themselves.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Bodil Jørgensen, Jens Albinus, Anne Louise Hassing
Manderlay (2005)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

A story of slavery, set in the southern U.S. in the 1930s.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Isaach De Bankolé, Danny Glover
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

Oilman Jan is paralyzed in an accident. His wife, who prayed for his return, feels guilty; even more, when Jan urges her to have sex with another.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård, Katrin Cartlidge
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

About a filmmaker not only revisiting, but also recreating (not in a conventional sense) one of his first films, The Perfect Human / Det perfekte menneske (1967)

Directors: Jørgen Leth, Lars von Trier
Stars: Claus Nissen, Majken Algren Nielsen, Daniel Hernandez Rodriguez
Riget (1994–1997)
Comedy | Drama | Fantasy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

Doctors at an ultramodern hospital in Denmark become convinced, by way of weird, inexplicable happenings, that the place is haunted.

Stars: Ernst-Hugo Järegård, Kirsten Rolffes, Ghita Nørby
Crime | Drama | Musical
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

An east European girl goes to America with her young son, expecting it to be like a Hollywood film.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse
Dogville (2003)
Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

A woman on the run from the mob is reluctantly accepted in a small Colorado town. In exchange, she agrees to work for them. As a search visits the town, she finds out that their support has a price. Yet her dangerous secret is never far away.

Director: Lars von Trier
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Lauren Bacall


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


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


Crime | Drama | Thriller


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »





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


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


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


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

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Groundbreaking use of cinematic styles and expressions
23 September 2006 | by Camera-ObscuraSee 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

32 of 37 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 49 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

IMDb Freedive: Watch Movies and TV Series for Free

Watch Hollywood hits and TV favorites for free with IMDb Freedive. Start streaming on IMDb and Fire TV devices today!

Start watching

Stream Trending Movies With Prime Video

Enjoy a night in with these popular movies available to stream now with Prime Video.

Start your free trial

Recently Viewed