Must-See Cinema! The breakthrough film for Lars von Trier, Emily Watson, and Stellan Skarsgård!
The Danish director Lars von Trier describes Breaking The Waves as ‘a simple love story.’ Which is a little like calling The Passion of Christ a courtroom thriller. Set in the early ’70s in a humble village perched on Scotland’s rugged northern coast, von Trier’s first English-language feature is a powerful religious allegory about an innocent young woman whose effusive goodness collides with the wider world.
Raised in a small, puritanical Calvinist community, Bess (the superb, disarming Emily Watson) is a solitary spot of warmth and passion in a brutally cold place. With the reluctant permission of the severe church elders, Bess marries Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), a good-natured lug who works on a North Sea drilling platform. After a brief spell of playful erotic discovery, the story takes a tragic turn: Jan is paralyzed in an accident. Bed-ridden, he urges Bess to date other men, but only when he suggests that these relationships can somehow make him well does she embark on a series of degrading sexual encounters. Her protective sister-in-law (Cartlidge) tries to intervene, to no avail. A woman so deeply religious she carries on intimate conversations with God, Bess sacrifices everything to save her husband.
Robby Müller’s cinematography has a washed-out quality, as if all the colour had been beaten out of the film by those relentless waves of the title, and his hand-held camera is an anxious witness, lending the tale a sense of imminent chaos. With a film as transcendent as it is brutal, von Trier offers up a tale of modern-day martyrdom to rival the tribulations of the saints.
– Aaron Gell, Time Out New York