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Von Trier's Element of Crime was one of the great love-it-or-hate-it films, and this divided opinions even more furiously. Portentous but hypnotic, it's a mannered delve into postwar history: an American German (Barr) returns to work on the German railways after WWII, only to get entangled in underground politics and the dark machinations of a railway dynasty. The grandiose scale and visual pyrotechnics paradoxically combine to claustrophobic effect (imagine something between Fassbinder and Lynch's Dune); and like the constantly shuttling sleeping car in which much of the film is set, where it's going is hard to say. Max von Sydow's ominously mesmeric opening voice-over makes for a wind-up from the outset, but if you can stay awake through that, you're in for a highly idiosyncratic mystery tour.

By: JRo

Release details

Duration: 114 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Lars von Trier
Screenwriter: Lars von Trier, Niels Vørsel, Tómas Gislason
Cast: Jean-Marc Barr
Barbara Sukowa
Udo Kier
Ernst-Hugo Järegård
Erik Mark
Jergen Reenberg
Henning Jensen
Eddie Constantine

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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I have never seen this film.Got it on DVD.I thought I was getting'Europa,Europa', a film I saw 17 years ago and wanted to see again.'Europa' is also known as 'Zentropa' to distinguish it from 'Europa,Europa'. Von Trier has made a technically complex film like the use of b/w and colour sometimes alternatively or in the same scene or through superimposition or back- projection.He even drops red colouration into a b/w bath scene when Max Hartmann commits suicide.The film opens with the camera over running rail lines and the deep hypnotic voice of Max Von Sydow ushering us into the mesmeric nature of film,or this film(or story). It's, in effect, the setting of a mood,the atmosphere of a dream in this Kafkaesque narrative.Leo,a German-speaking American, comes to post-war Germany Frankfurt to take up work with his uncle as a sleeping-car conductor on Zentropa's train(formerly used we find to transport Jews to the camps).Leo seems naively idealistic as he wants to show the Germans a little kindness, following the destruction of their country,to aid their recovery. He meets and falls in love with Katherina who is the daughter of Max Hartmann,the train's owner.She is a bit like the Ingrid Bergman character in 'Notorious'. She takes Leo to see her family where they dine.He meets Colonel Harris who wants his help to find Germans with connections to the Nazi Party. One of the family question his lack of commitment to either side.Katherina later says of anybody with connections to the Nazi's(80% of Germans) 'they were only fighting for their country'.The resistance to American occupation are called 'Werewolves'.A form or census is given to all Germans to establish their Nazi affiliations.The Americans are willing to turn a blind eye(like Hartmann) who are useful for post-war construction.However Hartmann knows he will be found out and suffer reprisals.He commits suicide. Katherina admits to being a 'Werewolf'.Leo is torn between the Americans and the Hartmanns.He still marries her.However he is now in the grip of the 'Werewolves' who enlist him to plant and set off bombs on the train as it goes over a bridge.Katherina is taken away as he heads into manipulated destiny. The burial of Hartmann is akin to a Nazi rally. He has second thoughts about the bomb and attempts to turn it off. However it explodes and there is a very drawn out drowning scene. As the train goes through the night we see that collaborators are strung up along the track. we also get a vivid sense of the collapse of post-war Germany with great crowd scenes and destroyed buildings which can be seen from the train.The problem I had with this film was the predominance of style over substance.We feel it's set more in the subconscious realm rather than in a physical space and so the point of the drama and where it's going becomes lost. There are echoes(homages)to Hitchcock,Welles and Lynch,possibly to Laughton's'Night of the Hunter'. The acting and cinematography are excellent and this remains a marker in world cinema.