However notable the results, when Danish director and arthouse showman Lars Von Trier began to move toward Dogma 95-style filmmaking with Breaking The Waves, the world lost a remarkable stylist of an entirely different sort. For the best evidence, have a look at 1991's Zentropa, a radical experiment in rear projection, mixed film stocks, and other optical effects that's also a highly compelling, thematically rich thriller set against a Europe in decline. For further evidence, check out Von Trier's stunning new-to-DVD feature debut, The Element Of Crime. Shot almost entirely in shades of orange and blue, the 1984 film combines elements of film noir and comic-book fantasy worlds to portray decay and despair in an unnamed corner of Europe. Imagine Blade Runner as rethought by the Delicatessen team of Jeunet and Caro (who no doubt studied Element), and you're on the right track. Brimming with unforgettable images and extraordinary shots, Von Trier's hypnotic film makes it easy to forget its general unpleasantness and murky storyline, following a cop (Michael Elphick) who returns to Europe after leaving Egypt under mysterious circumstances and comes to investigate a horrific series of child murders. Using The Element Of Crime, a textbook written by his now-unstable mentor (Esmond Knight), Elphick places himself in the mind of the killer and quickly discovers he has more in common with him than he would care to admit. The story is the stuff of countless direct-to-video thrillers, and Von Trier's vision of Euro-decadence (complete with pit-dwelling prostitutes) is considerably less sophisticated and less wickedly funny than the one in Zentropa. But Crime's dreamlike tone and fantastic visuals make it impossible to forget, like an absurd nightmare that overshadows the following day. Even if Von Trier never made another movie, viewers would still watch and admire this debut. Of course, Von Trier did make other films and, in addition to its beautiful transfer, the inclusion of Stig Björkman's revealing 1997 documentary Tranceformer: A Portrait Of Lars Von Trier makes this DVD all the more invaluable, if only for footage of a 12-year-old Von Trier's performance in the late-'60s Danish TV series Clandestine Summer.
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