Breaking the Waves Screen 5 articles

Breaking the Waves

1996

Breaking the Waves Poster
  • Ever since I first encountered Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves in Cannes, where it won the grand jury prize, I’ve been debating within myself about it, because I find it simultaneously shameless, boldly original, contrived, highly affecting, transparent, cynical, hopeful, ironic, sincere, ugly, beautiful, and downright baffling.

  • It's a rapt movie, and so wrapped up in its own harrowing dynamics that it finally, perhaps, goes too far in subjecting its selfless heroine to pain and indignity; is this sympathy or sadism? That said, it's a remarkable achievement for all concerned, with Katrin Cartlidge, as Bess's widowed sister-in-law, sharing the acting laurels with the radiant Emily Watson, and writer/director Lars von Trierbuilding the emotional and dramatic intensity with consummate skill.

  • Breaking the Waves is so irresolvable and so disturbing because it's a romantic deconstruction of romanticism; von Trier links intense love to the domineering platitudes of traditional religious trials of faith through their mutual capacity for masochism. The grand gestures that Bess commits exist for their own sake, as her self-inflictions arguably surpass the brutality she's undergoing them to absolve.

  • Above all, though, it’s a thrilling, utterly unpredictable suspense story that propelled von Trier to global recognition as one of the most adventurous writer-directors on the contemporary scene, and easily the most gifted one to come from Scandinavia since Ingmar Bergman emerged in the 1940s.

  • Terrific though it is, Breaking The Waves is, in one respect, an unusual choice for the Criterion Collection, which has released it in its now-standard DVD/Blu-ray combo package. Though shot on celluloid, this is one cruddy-looking movie; Von Trier and cinematographer Robby Müller prioritize the performances at all costs... [Still,] Breaking The Waves showcases [Von Trier] at his most pure and vulnerable, and it remains a bracing experience.

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