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Breaking The Waves
Denmark - 1996
Directed by Lars von Trier


Breaking The Waves is a story about people and emotions. There is no good or bad - only misunderstandings.

Very different from director Lars Von Trier's previous work, Breaking The Waves follows the life of Bess (Emily Watson), an innocent young woman living in a tightly knit community on Skye. She has led a sheltered life, protected by her family and her recently widowed sister-in-law, but finds happiness when she meets Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), an oil-rig worker. Despite local opposition, they marry and after a brief but intense period Jan returns to the rig. Bess however cannot cope with being apart and prays to God for Jan to come back to her. Her wishes are cruelly answered when Jan suffers a terrible accident on the rig and returns to Skye. Convinced he will be paralysed for the rest of his life, he urges her to find another lover. However, the community feels she is sinning in the eyes of God and she is abandoned and exiled. Even so, her faith leads her to believe that a miracle can bring Jan back.

Breaking the Waves functions on many levels, the twin themes of love and faith intertwining through most of the film. Bess' naiveté and innocence is touching, but at odds with the real world we and the other characters in the film inhabit. Emily Watson stepped into the key role of Bess and made the role her own after Helena Bonham Carter pulled out. It was a difficult part to play but Watson manages to convey the determination and resolve behind the apparently weak Bess.

In essence though, the film is carried by the windswept scenery and by Von Trier's sheer audacity. Structured as a set of chapters, each part of the film is prefixed by the most beautiful intertitles whilst surprisingly fitting seventies music plays in the background; the cinematography of many of the sections is largely in contrast to this (Mostly shot with a handheld camera, it is no suprise to find that the same team were responsible for the surreal The Kingdom, often described as a cross between ER and Twin Peaks).

Nothing though, can take away from the sheer self-belief which, like Bess, this film carries; in the end you don't know whether to laugh or cry. One of the most heartfelt releases of last year.

Runtime:  148 minutes

Review by Neil Chue Hong
Taken from EUFS Programme 1997-98

Copyright © 1995-1998 Edinburgh University Film Society


Guest Comments

From:  "Lisa"

"Hi!  I study film in Australia at the moment, and I must say that 'Breaking the Waves"" is one of the best films I have ever seen and it captures the essentials of life totally!  Does Lars Von Trier has an e-mail address where it is possible to get in contact with him?"


From:  "Rebecca"

"Breaking the Waves is a film about the degradation of women through self-sacrifice. How can this be the ""true essentials of life"" as Lisa puts it?  Film Student from Auckland, NZ"


From:  "Hrvoje"

"It is THE best movie I have ever seen.And now I don't know whether we're more perverse with or withouth gods."


From:  "Bugra"

","Ich möchte mich bei Lars Von TRIER bedanken.Was sonst könnte ich tun?ich bedanke mich,weil dieser film mir noch einmal gezeigt hat,wasfür einen menschen ich bin,wie ich mich jahrelang vor den anderen verhandelt habe und wie sie mich nicht verstanden haben.Dieser film hetzt mich auf um mich mal endlich staerker zu verteidigen.Es gibt doch naemlich überall solche bekannten,die nicht sehen können,was ihnen vor den augen steht und solche wie Bess,wer ohne zu unterbrechen versu-chen sich mit diesen in einer beziehung zu setzen.Das hat nichts zu tun,mit frau zu sein.ich bin naemlich mann.  deswegen glaube ich,dass man die bedeutung nicht so reduzieren kann,wie hier gemacht worden ist.Eine solche naivitaet darf natürlich nicht verteigt werden,aber man muss Bess als eine opferin der konservativen geselschaft und den film als ein versuch,welcher den menschen vor den folgen warnt,nehmen.  DANKE Lars,DANKE Emily  Istanbul,Türkei"


From:  "Fabio"

"Bene, esprimerò un solo giudizio: ""Fantastico"".


From:  "charlie"

"This is quite simply the best film I have ever seen. Lars Von Trier has true insight into scotish island living in the 70's. A true representation of the ""wee free"" church. Emily Watson was perfect for the role. I have watched this film many times and will never grow tired of it."


From:  "Jules DeSimone"

"Breaking the Waves is a miraculous film. A film partially driven by an uncanny performance by Emily Watson, and a narrative that trancends the formailty of structure and technique, Lars Von Trier has created something uniquely powerful and awe-inspiring. In making a film about the absolute purity of a woman's love, Von Trier has performed a miracle. One of the very few masterpieces in contemporary cinema, in my opinion."


From:  "christel woods"

"It was a story of simple means simple characters that had extrodinary tale to tell."


 

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