Breaking the Waves

Breaking the Waves

Director: Lars von Trier

Cast: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgård, Katrin Cartlidge


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With Breaking The Waves, director Lars von Trier fashions an often disturbing tale of the singular power of love. Bess (the Oscar-nominated Emily Watson) is a naïve, borderline simple young woman who lives in a Scottish coastal town ruled by the religious doctrine of its council of elders. Recovering from a mental breakdown caused by the death of her brother,


With Breaking The Waves, director Lars von Trier fashions an often disturbing tale of the singular power of love. Bess (the Oscar-nominated Emily Watson) is a naïve, borderline simple young woman who lives in a Scottish coastal town ruled by the religious doctrine of its council of elders. Recovering from a mental breakdown caused by the death of her brother, Bess marries a rough yet compassionate and attentive oil rig worker named Jan (Stellan Skarsgård). For a brief time, the couple enjoys peaceful wedded bliss, with the worldly Jan introducing Bess to the mysteries of sex. Jan must soon return to his job on the rig, however, where he is paralyzed from the neck down in a freak accident. Bess' emotional trauma over Jan's injury turns into obsession as she prays to God for his recovery and offers to do anything to have her husband back whole. Jan, constantly medicated and profoundly depressed, asks Bess to have sex with other men and tell him about it, thinking this will allow her to return to a normal life. Bess, on the other hand, sees it as an expression of her devotion to Jan that even God won't be able to ignore. Bess's resultant downward spiral leads to a finale of both tragedy and spirituality. Breaking the Waves is widely regarded as one of the most distinctive European movies of the 1990s, marking von Trier's movement toward his influential Dogma 95 school of filmmaking, which emphasizes realistic situations of contemporary life, filmed without background music and with a hand-held, restlessly moving camera.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Pete Segall
Set in a remote Scottish village by the North Sea, Breaking the Waves is a turbulent but stunning film, and it proved to be Danish director Lars von Trier's breakthrough in America. At its core is Bess (Emily Watson), a virginal naif who belongs to an orthodox Calvinist sect. She meets, falls in love with, and soon marries Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), a gentle worker from a nearby oil rig. Shortly after their wedding, Jan is crippled in an accident on the rig, and Bess takes a series of lovers, believing that, somehow, her simple carnality will incite God to "cure" Jan. In her screen debut, Watson is indelible as the beautiful but feral Bess (she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar); and von Trier pulls no punches, holding the camera tightly on Bess throughout all of her self-abusive chastising and saintly whoring. The film ultimately emerges as a tortured, but genuine, theological puzzle: Can one act as God's agent of mercy in this world? The film may not have an answer, but the way it poses the question is impossible to forget.
All Movie Guide
There was never any doubt that Lars von Trier could create an atmosphere in his films. The Element of Crime, Zentropa, and The Kingdom all proved that few filmmakers could fashion a visually distinctive world as well as von Trier; but with Breaking the Waves, he vaulted to the forefront of the serious filmmakers of the 1990s. It's a highly original, highly challenging story about love and faith featuring two remarkably difficult yet successful performances from the stars, Emily Watson (nominated for an Oscar in her screen debut ) and Stellan Skarsgård. Von Trier brings his unique visual style, here dominated by vertiginous hand-held camera movements that reportedly made some viewers physically ill, and makes it part of a complementary moral and spiritual complexity. The stylized documentary feel of von Trier's Dogma 95 film movement (though much praise for the grainy monochrome must go to noted German cinematographer Robby Müller) serves both what we are seeing and how closely we are drawn to the plight of the characters. So much is tackled here, with such a commingling of romantic vision and postmodern technique, that it seems almost impossible to relate this visionary yet perversely old-fashioned movie to other movies of its time. It has the sweep and eloquence of a grand opera, and the emotional payoff to go with it.

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Special Features

Selected-scene Audio Commentary featuring von Trier, Editor Anders Refn, and location scout Anthony Dod Mantle; New interview with filmmaker and critic Stig Björkman; New interviews with actors Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård; Interview from 2004 with actor Adrian Rawlins; Excerpts from Watson's audition tape, with Commentary by von Trier; Deleted scene featuring the late actor Katrin Cartlidge; Cannes Film Festival promotional clip; Trailer; Plus: A booklet featuring an essay by critic David Sterritt and an excerpt from the 1999 book Trier on von Trier

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Emily Watson Bess McNeill
Stellan Skarsgård Jan
Katrin Cartlidge Dodo McNeill
Jean-Marc Barr Terry
Adrian Rawlins Dr. Richardson
Sandra Voe Bess' Mother
Roef Ragas Pim
Gavin Mitchell Policeman
Anthony O'Donnell Boy
Ronnie McKellaig Precentor
Phil McCall Grandfather
Brian Smith Police Officer
John Wark Boy
Desmond Reilly Elder
Dorte Rømer Nurse
Robert Robertson Chairman
Finlay Welsh Coroner
Bob Docherty Man on Boat
Callum Cuthbertson Radio Operator
David Gallacher Glasgow Doctor
Mikal Gaup Pits
Iain Agnew Praying Man
Peter Bensted Ugly Man
David Bateson Young Sailor
Steven Leach Praying Man
Charles Kearney Praying Man
Owen Kavanagh Man at Lighthouse
Udo Kier Sadistic sailor
Sarah Gudgeon Sybilla
Jonathan Hackett Priest
Simon Towler Jorfald Boy in Film
Ray Jeffries Man on Bus

Technical Credits
Lars von Trier Director,Screenwriter
Morten Arnfred Asst. Director
Axel Helgeland Co-producer
Joachim Holbek Score Composer
Peter Aalbæk Jensen Producer
Lars Jönsson Executive Producer
Karl Juliusson Production Designer
Rob Langestraat Co-producer
Robby Müller Cinematographer
Joyce Nettles Casting
Manon Rasmussen Costumes/Costume Designer
Anders Refn Editor
Marianne Slot Co-producer
Per Streit Sound/Sound Designer
Peter van Vogelpoel Co-producer
Vibeke Windeløv Producer

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Breaking the Waves
1. "His Name is Jan" [2:09]
2. Chapter One: Bess Gets Married [15:16]
3. Chapter Two: Life with Jan [10:07]
4. Saying Good-Bye [9:52]
5. Chapter Three: Life Alone [8:09]
6. Bess's Wish [4:43]
7. The Accident [10:06]
8. Chapter Four: Jan's Illness [10:39]
9. Jan's Plea [8:24]
10. Chapter Five: Doubt [3:38]
11. A Bus Ride [9:09]
12. Signs of Healing [3:56]
13. Chapter Six: Faith [2:30]
14. Bess, the Whore [6:41]
15. Bess's Talent [5:11]
16. Committed [7:23]
17. Chapter Seven: Bess' Sacrifice [3:56]
18. Outcast [3:52]
19. Last Attempt [8:45]
20. Epilogue: The Funeral [8:17]
Disc #2 -- Breaking the Waves
1. Cutting on Emotion [7:16]
2. Primitive Visual Effects [6:27]
3. Mantle's Funeral [2:11]
4. Violent Time Cuts [7:38]
5. All Bible Bashers at Heart [7:57]
6. Rage at Test Screenings [9:43]
7. Directing Via Video Link [5:57]


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