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Element of Crime & Zero Kelvin

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Yes, my photograph has no connection with this post….I am still into my Scandinavian film excursion (and now is a good time given that the latest weather forecast has us below zero for the next week or so, with possible flurries).

First back to Lars Von Trier. Watched Element of Crime (1984). For some reason I had thought Zentropa was his first but no. If I was putting together a list of top 10 films for photographers, this would definitely be on that list.

There was just such a list on Luminous Landscape a while ago, and though I agree with most (such as Barry Lyndon, Days of Heaven, Raise the Red Lantern), the list did have a feel of someone cribbing together an article from among the films they just happened to own. But anyway, if I had to put such a list together, this would be high up on that list.

Element of Crime is a strange film in that near every frame is in fact frameable and many are simply astonishing in their originality but the film as a whole is rather languid. Our main character returning to Europe after many years away takes up an old investigation into a series of murders from when he was a policeman so long ago. Its one of those mixed identity sort of films but it really does not matter what this film is about at all…it is a visual masterpiece.

Below is a trailer, low def of course, with Radiohead accompaniment.

This is serous film noir (think Touch of Evil serious) crossed with early surrealism (one feels the Bunuel/Dali in here), touches of David Lynch in the roughly textured sets, tips of the hat to Apocalypse Now, and quite a bit of the double exposures which seem to be quite common in the rest of his work. On the basis of this, I would say that Von Trier has the kind of film obsessiveness of Tarantino but with a European twist.

After this, I rewatched Zero Kelvin (1995), and was again struck by the performance of Stellan Skarsgaard. It seems that most American actors, even those with considerable range, never quite abandon their personae in quite the way that European actors do. I defy anyone to watch Skarsgaard in this, then as Raoul Wallenberg and then as the Saxon leader in King Arthur, and even his more typical roles as the dissolute modern European male. He is physically the same person but so inhabits another skin as to truly become another. Though there are a few American actresses like Meryl Streep who manage this, few leading men seem to.

I have a certain fondness for films shot in winter so this already ranks in my books but Skarsgaard has the best performance I have ever seen of the “human” evil man, the near psychopath who opens up occasionally and is truly vulnerable at those times, careening between despondency and villainy, between self sabotage and murder. Watching Skarsgaard makes you reconsider your notions of American “acting”.

One comment on “Element of Crime & Zero Kelvin

  1. […] is, like Von Trier films, a work that is so utterly non mainstream that it makes you reexamine the very basics of cinema. […]

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