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Breaking the Waves (1996)

Breaking the Waves (1996)

Lars von Trier breaks his rules in the tearjerking first film of the Golden Heart trilogy

The Very Best

8.1

Movie

Denmark, France
English
Drama, Romance
1996
LARS VON TRIER
Adrian Rawlins, David Bateson, Dorte Rømer
158 min

TLDR

If only Bess was born in this day and age. She would have loved the internet.

What it's about

After finally given permission by her village’s Calvinist church, devout Scottish woman Bess McNeill marries Norwegian oil woker Jan Nyman, ready to start their lives together. However, after Jan gets paralyzed in an accident, he urges Bess to seek sexual pleasure elsewhere.

The take

While being known for co-writing the Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier’s first film after breaks his rules with built sets and music added in post. Still, Breaking the Waves has plenty of von Trier’s thematic preoccupations, challenging the notions between faithfulness and sexuality by positing a married couple who cannot indulge in marital pleasure, due to being paralyzed. While the premise leads to explicit scenes, it’s more harrowing than sexy, really. It’s terribly heartbreaking as Bess does all she can for her marriage, first by praying for her husband’s return, and then following his perverse wish, partly from guilt, but partly from pleasure, even when it goes contrary to her repressive church and community. Breaking the Waves may not be an easy watch, but regardless of what you personally feel about the morality of Bess’ actions, von Trier will nevertheless bring you to empathy.

What stands out

Emily Watson was a relative unknown at the time of this film’s release, and she was expelled from the School of Philosophy and Economic Science because of her role, but every confession scene, every time Bess tries to reach out to God, Watson proves that her being casted was the right choice.

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