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Element of Crime, The

Director: Lars Von Trier

Denmark| 1984. Colour. 104 minutes.


The plot unfolds as a crime story with a mystical core: Detective Fisher (played by British actor Michael Elphick), a European expatriate who has lived in Cairo for well over a decade, returns to a Europe ‘sometime in the near future’. He has come back to help solve a difficult case-the sexual murder of a small girl. The Europe he finds is a decayed and rain-swept ruin, a place of gloom and perpetual night. In his quest to find the killer, he employs the radical psychological methods mapped out in the book The Element of Crime, which was penned by his old teacher, Osborne. Fisher must immerse himself totally in the psyche of the suspected serial killer in order to solve the crime, but he gets sucked in too deeply, with horrifying consequences.
Von Trier counted The Asphalt Jungle (1950) among his favourite films and had a love of film noir in general. He described The Element of Crime as ‘the first film noir shot in colour’-and run through the strainer of German Expressionism, he might have added. A kind of vague ‘German-ness’ informs the film: while the language is English, the names and locations are German. For von Trier, Germany is Europe in many respects. The rigorous storyboarding and the meticulous planning of every shot was symptomatic of von Trier’s almost maniacal desire to control every last detail.

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