THE ELEMENT OF CRIME (Forbrydelsens element )


Lest you think that von Trier is just some guy who came up with a gimmicky approach to filmmaking, i.e. Dogma ’95, his first film is one of excellently crafted imagery.  Even the Jonny Lieberman’s of the world, who loathe the von Trier’s recent films as pretentious melodrama, might be able to enjoy this one.

The Element of Crime is set in the hypnotic state of a cop named Fischer who is recounting a particular case.  It quite appropriately looks like a photographer’s darkroom–a place where recorded images are brought into view.  Everything has a hew of red and there are a lot of water and light bulbs.

I couldn’t figure out why the beginning of the film, in which Fischer is being put under hypnosis, has the darkroom look.  My guess is that the film is told from the point of view of Fischer’s hypnotic state, which includes knowledge of his being put under.

The rest of the film’s hypnosis-like tone comes from methodical acting and (sometimes wacky) surrealism, like the half submerged police archives that can only be gotten to by sliding down a rope.

The plot is pretty straightforward.  There’s not much more to it than is stated above.  The real reasons to see this film are the unique tone and the images.  Sometimes brilliantly conceived and photographed, they range from a simple shot of a man talking, taken from outside his window, to a more complicated scene in which the same man remembers a car chase as it appears onscreen in a double exposure.  The scene culminates when he presents a photograph of the result of the chase as the imposed depiction of chase concludes, presenting a matching image.


The 45 minute documentary on von Trier is worth seeing in itself.  It’s content is pretty standard: von Trier’s childhood (including a role in a cornball TV movie), his early works and film school days; his mature works through Breaking the Waves, and interviews with von Trier and his creative partners.  It is well put together and provides a good look at its subject

  • Film Overall: 7
  • Direction: 8
  • Acting: 7
  • Story: 6
  • DVD Goodies: 7.5
  • Rewatchability: 6