The Element of Crime | Chicago Reader

The Element of Crime

Lars von Trier's Danish film of 1984 (shot in English) presents a formidable look: a vision of Europe in posttechnological decay, conceived as a swirl of Wellesian camera angles, Sternbergian lighting, and Tarkovskian detritus. Photographed in moldering sepia tones, the film never lets up in its visual inventiveness: each shot is a prickly field of disturbing details. Unfortunately, the narrative structure von Trier has chosen to support his images is woefully trite—yet one more hard-boiled dick (Michael Elphick) investigating yet one more governmental conspiracy. Like dozens of young directors before him, von Trier labors to bring forth the poetry of the genre, and succeeds only in killing it with an overbearing aestheticism. Despite its ferocious creative energy, the film finally seems tepid and repetitious, thanks to von Trier's failure to marshal anything more than superficial dramatic development.

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