The Element of Crime





I recently had the great honor of watching the first film from the greatest director ever, Lars Von Trier. And apparently, even from his earliest cinematic routes, dating back to my birth year, Trier has been insistent on ensuring that his audience—the guests which he invites to his films—do not enjoy themselves.

Think of what commitment it must take for a first-timer to decide to shoot an entire movie in sepia tones (unless he wimpily filtered it in post production—the coward) ensuring that each frame was uglier, grungier than the last. And think of the tenacity to shoot his detective movie which plays like “Alphaville” without the fun (and makes “Alphaville’s” plot seem as consistent and linear as a children’s book.

But he did these things. And—if I want to be impartial and judge based on what he seems to have set out to do—he is successful. But what did he set out to do? And what is “The Element of Crime?”

Well it is a movie, and it is a book in the movie. It is what basically amounts to a scientific theory at tracking down the committer of a crime.

That’s right. It’s like a detective story. A sepia toned detective story. But it’s a rough ride, and hard to enjoy. It’s interesting to note that the graphic “Antichrist” is, for me, anyway, more watchable. I suppose that is a testament to his growth as a filmmaker. He has always pushed buttons and not cared to entertain his audience, but a growing adeptness in his skill (see the bludgeoning yet watchable “Dogville”) seem to make his later work easier to sludge through, even as his subject matter becomes darker and more dismal. Trier is certainly a gifted filmmaker, and without doubt took chances in “The Element of Crime” and it does have many fantastic elements. But, for me, it was sluggish and at times painful. And not painful in the way most Trier films are, but painful as to hearing each and every tick of your watch as the near two hours of film pass.

To be fair, maybe it was mood. I watched these films tired and late at night. Lars Von Trier asks investment of a sort in his films. Perhaps I hadn’t fully invested like I did in his other works. But for a man who cheerfully declares “No more happy endings” and shouts about how his American Trilogy could be a full night in which you are guaranteed not to enjoy yourselves…that takes some doing.

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