A stunning film
by writer/director Lars von Trier
, - previously known for his 1991
He describes his film as "a simple love story", but it is in fact a complex and disturbing, multi-layered experience which deals with issues of love, sanity, religion and tragedy.
The film's 2 hour, 39 minute duration is divided into nine sections: a prologue, seven "chapters", and an epilogue, which is thought by some to impair the overall impact.
Breaking the Waves is set during the 1970's in Scotland, though the timeless, otherworldly quality, which it is lent by the use of a hand-held camera for filming renders this, unimportant.
The protagonists live in a small village, run by the highly religious Christian community. The elders with their sombre attire and long beards are almost Amish, and are similarly minded. They live for God.
When the central character, meek, kind-hearted, child-like Bess decides to wed Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), an oil-rig worker, outsider and non-zealot, there is a palpable sense of unease.
Within a week, he leaves her behind to return to the rig, and no one, including her best friend and sister-in-law, Dorothy (Katrin Cartlidge), can lift her from her ensuing depression.
The film becomes disturbing when tragedy strikes - Jan is involved in a serious accident. The effect on Bess is horrific, and as a viewer you are captivated by Bess's descent into an ever worse physical and mental state.
I believe that enjoyment of the movie is massively dependent on your belief in Bess, (stunningly played by Emily Watson). With her ambiguous relationship with God, more direct than that of the Church elders, and her love for an outsider, she is resented and, ultimately, banished.
It is left up to the viewer to decide whether this spiritual communication is genuine or further proof that Bess is mentally unstable.
Certainly the question of whether her suffering is for a higher purpose, is central - much like the Harvey Keitel character in Bad Lieutenant.
The cinema verite style, and dark, grainy look of the film does render the experience more haunting, and personal, and as a men's magazine commented:
Breaking The Waves "Will have grown men crying like babies."
Breaking The Waves
U.S. Release Date: beginning 11/13/96 (limited)
Rated : R for Violence, sex, nudity and profanity
Cast: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard, Katrin Cartlidge, Jean-Marc Barr, Adrian Rawlins, Udo Kier
Director: Lars von Trier
Producers: Vibeke Windelov, Peter Aalbaek Jensen
Screenplay: Lars von Trier
Cinematography: Robby Muller
Music: Joachim Holbek
U.S. Distributor: October Films
This is the most inviting little nodeshell I have ever found