Breaking The Waves

on November 13, 1996 by Melissa Morrison
Print
A ludicrous soap opera with pretensions of grandeur, "Breaking the Waves" required an epic length and laborious contrivances to generate its main gimmick: a simple-minded, pure-of-soul newlywed woman who feels compelled by faith to have sex with strangers. When Bess (Emily Watson) marries the manly Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), she believes God has finally rewarded her piety. But soon an accident renders Jan a paraplegic clinging to life. The only thing that will give him the will to live, he tells her, is if she takes lovers and then describes the sex to him. Yeah, right. Bess obeys-in her first attempt, her face reflects both disgust and determination as she gives a surprised passenger a hand-job on the bus-but at a huge cost to herself.
The soapy scenario includes a doctor suddenly professing his love for Bess, and a gloppy final image as viewed from heaven. Unlike a soap, however, director and writer Lars von Trier has imbued the situation with depth and humanity. The film's main strength is Watson's tremulous, sometimes goofy Bess, who comes to believe her acts have a direct effect on Jan's health, the way she believed her prayers once did. Bess lives in a Scottish coastal village, whose stern-faced church leaders don't allow women to speak at services; excommunication from church means excommunication from society and family.
The conflict "Breaking the Waves" explores-true love versus religious faith and love for self-is a fascinating one, and the exploration is wrenching. That is, until the film exploits its heroine by turning her from a wispy creature in a Peter Pan collar into a strumpet in vinyl hotpants. Starring Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard and Katrin Cartlidge. Directed and written by Lars von Trier. Produced by Vibeke Windelov. An October Films release. Drama. Rated R for strong graphic sexuality, nudity, language, and some violence. Running time: 158 min. Screened at Cannes; won Grand Prix. Opens 11/13 NY/LA.
Tags: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard, Katrin Cartlidge, Directed and written by Lars von Trier. Produced by Vibeke Windelov, An October Films release, Drama, society, family, health, excommunication, love, heaven
Print

read all Reviews »


0 Comments

No comments were posted.

What do you think?