Friday, February 27, 2015

THE ELEMENT OF CRIME (1984) - Lars Von Trier


Lars Von Trier's first feature (also the first of the "Europa Trilogy") is a dystopian police procedural with style to burn. I'm thinking he could've burned some of the script along with it. It's the story of a cop undergoing hypnosis in Cairo to remember a case about a murderer he mind-tracked in Germany based on a method he learned from his mentor (got that?). The movie relies HEAVILY on voiceover to the point where I wondered if Von Trier even needed to shoot with sync sound. At times, it almost plays like an old-time radio play, "The Shadow" as written by Phillip K. Dick and lensed by Andrei Tarkovsky's evil twin. It also relies heavily on SEPIA TONE, as if the movie were a bug trapped in amber. Given that whole film takes place under hypnosis (ala Europa), the approach mostly works, especially when paired with Von Trier's long, ominous pans and trackings through walls, floorboards, even bed mattresses. It got to the point where I wondered if the Coens watched a pirated copy of this the same year they did Blood Simple.

Like the first time I saw Europa in the theatre, Von Trier's artfully catatonic style alternately intrigued me and made me a little sleepy. This might have something to do with the fact that I watched it late in the evening or that the copy I had wasn't up to snuff (recorded off the IFC channel some time in the early aughts). There's a preponderance of details in the plot and looking at that muddy orange-yellow tends to bring on eye/brain strain. Maybe in a few months or years I'll give it another try.  In the meantime, here's a pic of the old trickster himself when he was just a young bald punk (his character name is "Schmuck of Ages"). I may have snoozed a bit, but at least I caught the Lars cameo.

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