Breaking The Waves * * * *
Director: Lars von Trier.
Screenplay: Lars von Trier, Peter Asmussen.
Starring: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard, Adrian Rawlins, Katrin Cartlidge, Jean-Marc Barr, Jonathan Hackett, Sandra Voe, Udo Kier.
This was controversial Danish director Lars von Trier’s first film in English and also the first in his “Golden Hearts” trilogy in which the heroines remain naive despite their actions. The two other parts are “The Idiots” and “Dancer in the Dark” but this is the strongest of the three.
Bess (Emily Watson) is a devout, church going, innocent young woman living in a remote Scottish village in the 1970’s. She possesses a real sweetness, warmth and affection but she’s also not right in the head. She marries oil rig worker Jan (Stellan Skarsgard) and is unable to bear separation from him when he leaves for work. When he is brought back from the rig paralysed after an accident, her obsession adds to his despair. They arrive at a bizarre arrangement; he urges her to take a lover, for his own sexual gratification and she interprets this as a spiritual mission.
Von Trier shoots in a grainy, almost documentary like style (with help from respected cinematographer Robby Muller) adding to the realism of his story and his characters. Emily Watson (in her debut) is commanding throughout with a marvellous and brave performance. Her physical and mental struggle is tragically and achingly portrayed. Von Trier’s films tend not to be easy viewing, or the treatment of his female characters, for that matter. Just look at the aforementioned films, as well as, “Dogville” and “AntiChrist“. This is no exception and any actress taking on a role in his films needs to be committed. Watson certainly is here and commands the screen entirely. The only downside that the film suffers from, is it’s length. After the two hour mark, and another half hour to go, it overstays it’s welcome. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem but the subject matter is so depressing that it becomes an exhausting experience.
Not to everyone’s tastes but if your a fan of von Trier, then it’s essential viewing. But, as always, with the provocative director, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.