The Element of Crime
|The Element of Crime|
|Directed by||Lars von Trier|
|Produced by||Per Holst|
|Written by||Lars von Trier
Me Me Lai
|Music by||Bo Holten|
|Distributed by||Kærne Film|
|Release date(s)||14 May 1984 (Denmark)
1 May 1987 (U.S.)
|Running time||104 min|
The Element of Crime (Danish: Forbrydelsens element) is the first feature film directed by noted Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. The film, released in 1984, is also the first in the director's Europa trilogy. The other two films in the trilogy are Epidemic (1987) and Europa (1991).
In The Element of Crime, an English detective named Fisher (Michael Elphick), who has become an expatriate living in Cairo, undergoes hypnosis in order to recall his last case. The Europe of his dreamlike recollection is a dystopia, dark and decaying. Fisher remembers pursuing an elusive killer called the "Lotto Murderer", who was strangling and then mutilating young girls who were selling lottery tickets. He attempts to track down the killer using the controversial methods outlined in a book entitled The Element of Crime, written by his disgraced mentor, Osborne (Esmond Knight). He is joined in his search by a prostitute named Kim (Me Me Lai), who, it turns out, has had a child by his target. Fisher's search is based on a tailing report written by Osborne when trying to track down a murderer who had been killing in the same way as the "Lotto Murderer", but who, supposedly, has since died in a crash. The Osborne method requires the detective to try to identify with the mind of the killer. This he does, but, in so doing, begins to behave more and more like a serial killer himself.
- Michael Elphick as Fisher
- Esmond Knight as Osborne
- Me Me Lai as Kim
- Jerold Wells as Kramer
- Ahmed El Shenawi as Therapist
- Astrid Henning-Jensen as House Keeper
- János Herskó as Coroner
- Stig Larsson as Coroner's Assistant
- Harry Harper as Portier 1
- Roman Moszkowicz as Portier 2
- Lars von Trier as Schmuck of Ages
- Frederik Casby as White Policeman
- Duke Addabayo as Black Policeman
- Jon Bang Carlsen as Angry Policeman
- Leif Magnusson as Hotel Guest
- Preben Lerdorff Rye as Grandfather
- Camilla Overbye Roos as Lotto Girl 1
- Maria Behrendt as Lotto Girl 2
- Mogens Rukov as Librarian
- Gotha Andersen as Judge
The film employs the film noir conventions of monochrome footage, apparently constant night, and the frequent presence of water, such as rain and rivers. The film is shot almost entirely in sodium light resulting in images reminiscent of sepia tone, though with a more intense yellow. Because sodium lamps produce light in only a few narrow emission peaks, rather than over a wide spectrum, the film has an almost monochrome appearance. The sepia is occasionally contrasted with piercing blues or reds.
The world depicted in the film is semi-derelict. Disordered collections of similar or identical objects are found in many of the scenes, reinforcing the sense of a crumbling society. Examples include white paper, light bulbs, heaps of keys, surgical scissors, glass bottles, rubber stamps and Coca-Cola cans.
The film's slow pace, dark visuals and occasional surreal imagery give it a dreamlike quality. In addition, much of the dialogue is contradictory. An example is one conversation between Fisher and his mentor's housekeeper:
- Fisher: Is it always as dark as this at this time of year?
- Housekeeper: There are no seasons any more. The last three summers haven't been summers. The weather changes all the time. It never alters.
In the opening of the film, a shot of a donkey lying on its back and then slowly struggling to stand may be a homage to a similar shot in Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1968). Trier has stated that he is an admirer of Tarkovsky's work.
I was very inspired by Tarkovsky. I won't make any bones about that. I saw an excerpt from The Mirror (Zerkalo) on Swedish television once, just a travelling shot around that house, and that was one of those 'I'll be damned' experiences.
|Organization||Category||Recipients and nominees||Result|
|Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival||Grand Prix||Lars von Trier||Nominated|
|Cannes Film Festival||Technical Grand Prize||Lars von Trier||Won|
|Palme d'Or||Lars von Trier||Nominated|
|Bodil Awards||Best Film||Lars von Trier||Won|
|Fantasporto||International Fantasy Film Award for Best Director||Lars von Trier||Won|
|International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film||Lars von Trier||Nominated|
|Mannheim-Heidelberg International Filmfestival||Josef von Sternberg Award||Lars von Trier||Won|
|Robert Award||Best Cinematography||Tom Elling||Won|
|Best Costume Design||Manon Rasmussen||Won|
|Best Editor||Tómas Gislason||Won|
|Best Film||Lars von Trier||Won|
|Best Production Design||Peter Høimark||Won|
|Best Sound||Morten Degnbol||Won|
|Best Special Effects||Peter Høimark||Won|
|Vulcain Prize||Technical Grand Prize||Lars von Trier||Won|
DVD releases 
The Element of Crime has been released on DVD in North America by the Criterion Collection. In Europe, a digitally remastered DVD is available as part of the box set Lars von Trier's Europe Trilogy – Hypnotic Edition.
- Lumholdt, Jan (2003). Lars von Trier: interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 74. ISBN 978-1-57806-532-5. Retrieved 14 October 2010. "Both The Element of Crime and Images of a Relief are romances in decomposition and set in a landscape saturated in yellow sodium color."
- Hjort, Mette; Bondebjerg, Ib (1 January 2003). The Danish directors: dialogues on a contemporary national cinema. Intellect Books. p. 215. ISBN 978-1-84150-841-2. Retrieved 14 October 2010.
- "Festival de Cannes: The Element of Crime". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-06-23.
- "Awards and Juries 1984". iffmh.de. Retrieved 2011-05-22.
- The Element of Crime at AllRovi
- The Element of Crime at the Internet Movie Database
- The Element of Crime at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Element of Crime at the TCM Movie Database
- Criterion Collection essay by Peter Cowie