« THE DEATH OF STALIN | Main | VIVRE SA VIE — CLASSIC FILM PICK »

February 13, 2018

BREAKING THE WAVES — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Breaking the WavesIt's impossible to know when you are watching film like "Breaking the Waves" that you are witnessing the high watermark of a filmmaker's career. Made shortly after Lars von Trier (he added the "von" himself) co-authored with Thomas Vinterberg the strident "Dogme 95 Manifesto" for low-budget filmmaking, "Breaking the Waves" comes with a clarity of vision and social urgency that is an assault on the senses and the intellect. Von Trier leaves no stone unturned.

In her breakout performance Emily Watson plays Bess McNeill, a simple-minded Scottish, Calvinist churchgoer who marries Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgard), and oil rig worker who suffers a terrible accident that leaves him paralyzed. Bess McNeill's worldview is hampered by the religious indoctrination she has gone through. Intimate conversations with God, in which Bess takes on both roles, provide insight into her sincere but ill-conceived thought process. Nonetheless, the love that Jan and Bess share is real as her imagination brings her to God. 

Emily Watson

When Jan urges Bess to go out and have sex with other men and report back to him her carnal experiences, she takes Jan's wishes beyond the realm of common sense. In her mind Bess is helping cure Jan from his dire circumstance.

Cinematographer Robby Muller’s documentary shooting style favors intimate close-ups to reveal characters’ inner emotional lives. Muller captures Scotland’s rugged atmosphere as a supporting character to the Shakespearian tragedy on hand.

Breakingthewaves

Although fiercely criticized for its shaky handheld camerawork, the technique gives the film an ungrounded sensibility of floating on roiling waves. Naturally, film and television industries coopted von Trier’s technique so much so that it doesn’t stand out at all. The film's seven-acts are marked by colorful postcard chapter headings accompanied by songs such as Mott The Hopple's "All the Way From Memphis" for Chapter One — Bess Gets Married or Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" to announce Chapter Six.

Jan and Bess

Lars von Trier makes a clever attack on organized religion that resonates with Bunuel's famous line, "I'm an atheist, thank God." Emily Watson gives an angelic if earth-shattering performance that is transgressive, cathartic, and viscerally painful. Here is a film that makes you feel like you've read the novel, seen the movie, and lived the life of a protagonist more empathetic than any other. You just might need a stiff drink afterward but you will have witnessed one of the best films of all time. 

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos

COLE SMITHEY’S MOVIE WEEK

COLE SMITHEY’S CLASSIC CINEMA

Throwback Thursday


Podcast Series