Fisher (Michael Elphick) a former detective, living as an expatriate in Cairo, Egypt, underwent a hypnosis to to recall his last case. In a decaying, dystopic Europe, 13 years prior, he investigated a serial killings suspect, the elusive ‘The Lotto Murderer’. He used a controversial methods written by his now disgraced former mentor, Osborne (Esmond Knight) and his seminal work The Element of Crime.
Part classic cloak-and-dagger noir with a surrealistic psychological thriller, this debut feature from Lars von Trier (as well as the first of his Europa trilogy) was a film to experience. Perhaps not the most enjoyable kind but definitely a memorable one.The story itself is quite interesting, but i always have this fascination about serial killers and the intricacies of their inner psychological realm. The film mainly seen from the point of view of Fisher who narrates and introduce us the event that he experienced. I see how he quickly become obsessed with this case and quickly become disoriented and quickly loosing himself in the process. But i found myself quickly grew tired and loosing my interest halfway through the film.
The film has this surreal dreamlike quality that adds to its envisioned Europe dystopia. The sound of adzan, a muslim call for prayer opens the film did disorient me a bit, although it explain the Cairo backdrop of the ‘present reality’ in the film. The film quickly delved into Fisher surrealistic story that has this dream like quality to it. Absurd imagery of debris-filled water and floating dead horse marked our beginning to delved into the memory of Fisher, or perhaps his dream (or more appropriately his nightmares). The film is drenched in rust sepia with hints of vibrant blues in between (random light bulbs, tv screens, etc). It is a film which its visual seemed to overwhelmed the substance its trying to convey. There are many exploration of style and camera work in the film, that seemed rather self indulgent and overshadowing. Some of the stylistic camera work of the film i thought was very effective. For example there’s super-imposing an image on top of another, or using paralel images to transition between one scene to the next. But it often distracts instead of efficiently used to emphasize the story.
I really ambivalent about what i feel about this film. Maybe i did not really understand what the director really tried to convey in the first place. But debut films really is the place where a director usually explore their style, and in that sense, von Trier really achieve an outstanding piece in modern cinema that would be hard to forget. The Element of Crime is definitely a film to remember.
THE ELEMENT OF CRIME (1984)
GENRE Thriller, Drama
DIRECTOR Lars von Trier | PRODUCER Per Holst | WRITER Lars von Trier, Niels Vørsel | MUSIC Bo Holten | CINEMATOGRAPHER Tom Elling | DISTRIBUTOR Kærne Film | COUNTRY Denmark | RELEASE May 14, 1984 | RUNNING TIME 104 Minutes
STARRING Michael Elphick, Esmond Knight, Me me Lai, Jerold Wells
DID YOU KNOW? The original title was The Last Tourist in Europa, which is heard in a German translation during the final credits.