Film: Breaking the Waves

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Film:

Breaking the Waves

Director: Lars von Trier
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Distributor: Artisan Entertainment

Set in an unmercifully rugged, coastal village in Scotland in the 1970s, this extraordinary film by Lars von Trier stars British actress Emily Watson as a barely contained naive named Bess, who holds regular conversations with God and whose pure and intensely personal faith is hardly tolerated by the gruesome Calvinist elders of her church. Bess marries an oil-rig worker (Stellan Skarsgard) and comes to believe that erotic discovery is a part of God’s grand plan. But after her spouse is hurt in an accident, she decides that divine instruction is leading her…

Reviews

Amazon.com

Set in an unmercifully rugged, coastal village in Scotland in the 1970s, this extraordinary film by Lars von Trier stars British actress Emily Watson as a barely contained naive named Bess, who holds regular conversations with God and whose pure and intensely personal faith is hardly tolerated by the gruesome Calvinist elders of her church. Bess marries an oil-rig worker (Stellan Skarsgard) and comes to believe that erotic discovery is a part of God’s grand plan. But after her spouse is hurt in an accident, she decides that divine instruction is leading her toward the life of a prostitute—with disastrous but somehow beautiful results. Von Trier (The Kingdom) has made a wonderful, entirely unexpected, and rigorous work of discovery in this film, with a formal visual design that recalls classic films by Carl Theodor Dreyer and Robert Bresson. Watson is a phenomenon, her wide-eyed wonder at the world as God’s handiwork a breathtaking portrayal of conviction. —Tom Keogh

Barnes and Noble

Set in a remote Scottish village by the North Sea, Breaking the Waves is a turbulent but stunning film, and it proved to be Danish director Lars von Trier’s breakthrough in America. At its core is Bess (Emily Watson), a virginal naif who belongs to an orthodox Calvinist sect. She meets, falls in love with, and soon marries Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), a gentle worker from a nearby oil rig. Shortly after their wedding, Jan is crippled in an accident on the rig, and Bess takes a series of lovers, believing that, somehow, her simple carnality will incite God to “cure” Jan. In her screen debut, Watson is indelible as the beautiful but feral Bess (she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar); and von Trier pulls no punches, holding the camera tightly on Bess throughout all of her self-abusive chastising and saintly whoring. The film ultimately emerges as a tortured, but genuine, theological puzzle: Can one act as God’s agent of mercy in this world? The film may not have an answer, but the way it poses the question is impossible to forget. Pete Segall

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