Monday, August 28, 2006

The Element Of Crime (1984)

The first of Lars' Europa Trilogy, not the thirteenth.

Genre: Experimental Post-Apocalyptic Noir Thriller Drama (Denmark)

Starring: Michael Elphick (Withnail & I; Gorky Park), Esmond Knight (The River)

Directed By: Lars von Trier (The Five Obstructions; Manderlay)

Overview: A cop is called back from Cairo, in hopes that his expertise could help capture a serial killer. It's been thirteen years since he's been in Europe, and it's a far different place than Fisher remembers.

Acting: Slow, steady, meticulous, this is the style that Lars makes his characters take, and this is one of the things that help give it that Experimental feel. It's not a weird film, not a movie where the haphazard tertiary characters are strange and unusual for oddness sake, but they do have an intricately quiet pace, and they don't feel the need to explain their actions. Solid performances.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: Ever seen Hardware? Sadly, I made the mistake of seeing that one while taking my first year of photography in college. This film uses the same colour composition, and if you're sick of seeing the inside of a darkroom don't watch this. It's always dark and it's always orange sepia (with rare streaks of vibrant contrasting blue) so it's highly stylized, but Lars has this way of magically putting the camera in just the right place to wow you visually, be it in sweeps, zooms or rare angles. I thought it was beautiful in its bleak outlook.
Rating: 9

Script: "There are no seasons any more. The last three summers haven't been summers. The weather changes all the time. It never alters."

That's a perfect example of the style of writing employed here by this director. It's nonsensical, paradoxical and yet somehow advances the plot just enough to keep us in a muddy and vague understanding of the overall action. As with Last Year At Marienbad, I don't know whether to call it genius or not, but I will say that it's on purpose and there are some very poetic lines that drive home the ills of this strange society that now exists, and a valiant effort indeed.
Rating: 8

Plot: The plot itself is ironically ever-standard Noir. A cop chasing down a criminal, however the twist is the method he's using to catch him. This cop, Fisher, has a mentor who wrote a book called 'Element of Crime', a method of police work where the detective adopts as many of the habits of the criminal as possible, and lives as much like that person as they retrace their actions, their motives, their crimes. It's a cerebral Noir, because our protagonist struggles with himself far more than he ever could with any assailant.
Rating: 8

Mood: I'd never would have imagined Lars von Trier doing Film Noir in a million years. It's definitely original, I'll give it that. He certainly does what he can to flip a Genre on it's ear, but borrowing the ever-rainy, always dark, post-apocalyptic air from such perfect films as Blade Runner, made in 1982 might have a lot to do with that. Overall, the film might have been too symbolic, too nonsensical, but it is Avant-Garde before Noir, so don't expect to understand this perfectly.
Rating: 8

Post-Apocalyptic Europe, where cops beat on innocents and crimes go unpunished... Wait isn't that today's America?

Overall Rating: 82% (The Element Works Good, But Could Be Hotter)

Aftertaste: You might be too confused to appreciate this film, but if you go in knowing it's Avant-Garde, then you can forgive its nonsensical qualities before they occur. I myself expected something far more linear so it took an effort to make that shift. It's interesting how one can 'cue up' the right side of the brain, waking it up, inviting it to take over and do what the logic centers would be infuriated over. I guess that's what this taught me: knowing that something is Avant-Garde halfway through makes it less enjoyable than knowing it ahead of time. It's important to know what side of the brain should be working hardest before any endeavour...