Thursday, 13 January 2011



Look, I'm not a philistine. Just because I'd rather give a second viewing to Love Letters Of A Portuguese Nun than, say, Amistad or Revolutionary Road, it doesn't mean I can't appreciate a bit of yer actual culture, know what I mean? Yes, I've seen more Jess Franco movies than I have Peter Greenaway movies but I'm more than happy with the slightly more cerebral films as a welcome break from drooling multiplex fodder. My rentals queue has loads of subtitled films on it, and not all of them have ninjas in them.

The Element Of Crime is a Danish arthouse crime thriller in which a detective (the late Michael Elphick) returns home from Egypt in order to track down a serial killer who's bumping off girls selling lottery tickets. Rather than the traditional police techniques of evidence, fingerprints, witnesses and generally investigating the crimes, Elphick's methods derive from his old mentor's textbook, the titular Element Of Crime, via which he can solve the crimes by aping the criminal's behaviour, character and actions - in effect "becoming" the man he's searching for. So he follows the trail of the mysterious Harry Gray: staying in the same hotel rooms in the same towns, sleeping with the same woman, wearing the same hat....

Which is fine. You can do all sorts of things with this: examine notions of identity, suggest the detective may be hunting the criminal self within his civilised self, or just rock out into horror/slasher territory. There are a thousand ways to go. But The Element Of Crime is one of the most miserable, depressing movies you could imagine. Everything takes place at night, everything's damp and dark and there's absolutely no fun to be had by anyone. It's some kind of sepia-drenched dystopian nightmare horrorscape in which half the country doesn't even appear to have electricity, everyone seems to live in hopeless, grinding poverty and frankly being butchered and mutilated by a homicidal maniac would come as sweet relief.

It's directed by notorious maverick Lars Von Trier - his debut feature - and I'll confess here and now that the only other film of his that I've seen was his most recent, Antichrist, and I didn't like that one either (though for entirely different reasons). At least that film did things, albeit things I didn't like. The Element Of Crime doesn't really do much at all, and what it does do is so grim and downbeat that I was losing patience with it and in truth struggled to stay to the bitter end. Lighten up, Lars, chill out and have a laugh. I could have more fun at an plague pit. I'm aware than fun wasn't the main intention, but what the hell was?


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