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Breaking the Waves

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Breaking the Waves

Starring: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard
Director: Lars Von Trier
Rated: R
RunTime: 159 Minutes
Release Date: November 1996
Genres: Drama, Foreign

*Also starring: Katrin Cartlidge, Jean-Marc Barr, Adrian Rawlins, Sandra Voe, Udo Kier, Mikkel Gaup, Roef Ragas, Phil McCall

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Review by Pedro Sena
3 stars out of 4

The only thing that seems to work against this film, is that it has no positive values, as it were, and therefore, no hope, in many ways, specially for the character/person, who makes this film go. But if one can, put aside that value judgement, this film has one performance that is absolutely excellent, and well deserving of its accolades. Not many people can stand out so much, anywhere at all.

This is the story of Bess, who marries outside of her family and village, to an oil derrick worker. She is, very aloof, does crazy things, and in her spare time has conversations with God, with whom she seems to have a reasonable rapport.... except that this is mixed to the point that it makes her feel guilty, and responsible for the chain of events that change her life.

Her marriage seems fine, and as might be customary, she misses her husband. In one of her prayers/conversations with God, she asks that he come home. But he comes home injured, and ends up paralyzed. This adds some strain to their marriage, and jan decided that Bess should have affairs and then tell him about it, as a way for him to enjoy something while in pain and paralyzed. Bess is at odds with the whole thing, and starts out with a lie, which of course, Jan sees through anyway. And in her second attempt, she decided to give herself away to the first person that crosses her path.

This progresses, as is expected, and Jan is not getting better. he has, however, met another nurse, who seems to be more helpful. The nurse quickly sees the predicament that they are both in, and the story changes. Bess makes another mistake and joins a band of foreign shipmen, whose attitudes towards women and sex seem to be more sadistic than otherwise, and this brings about her total demise. The new nurse has called Jan's bluff, and his healing and desire to live has finally improved, and in the end we catch Bess getting a burial, at their hands, after the elders had condemned her, and decided that she could not have a decent burial at all.

Startling as it may be the greatest thing in this film is watching Emily Watson do her Bess thing all the way through. From the innocent little girl having her talks to God, to her eventual reckless abandon, in giving herself away, to prove that she loves her husband, which is something that he has requested in the first place. In between is a massive acting job, the likes of which is rarely found.

For the most part, this film is done with a camera in hand, as if it had Bess' point of view as the most important part of its story. Around her, the camera moves, and at times it seems to move faster than otherwise, which is a nice analogy for what is happening around her, and she has a hard time keeping up with it. In comparison, the rest of the film is slow and boring, with some rather pointed places... like Jan's hospital room, where the camera does not move as much, or very little, thus suggesting that he is boring, if one takes that to be a theme. However, Bess has given herself away to this man, and she will do what she has to, to feel like she can love him unconditionally. The down side, of course, asides from a religious community that relishes in judging people, even if they are from their families, as outlaws, renegades, and disgraced people.

Lars von Trier, has used the hand style before, although it was never used in such an incredible abandon with which it is used here in this film. This enhances Bess' plight, and we can't help but feel sorry for her and her predicament. And it never slows down, or makes the film less attractive for what it is trying to do, and accomplish. It is the story of Bess, and the film ends with Bess, though we know what else has happened.

It's hard not to get caught up in the emotions of the moment in this film, as the visual style tends to drag you in.... when jan gets hurt, it is as if we are also getting hurt, or at least a part of the hard work that he is doing.

A very good film, though sad, but very strong in the acting department, specially Emily Watson, who turns in what is considered a career performance. But the film has its vicious edge at times, specially when looking at the elders and their attitudes.

Copyright 1997 Pedro Sena

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