It is extremely difficult to live for a few hours in a world of depravity brought on by men in the name of God.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Breaking the Waves" is a wrenching film that asks the audience to consider the power of tragedy, faith, and passion. To do that, Danish director Lars von Trier has assembled an outstanding multinational cast and set his story in a part of Scotland ruled by Calvinist rigidity. He has made a long, compelling film that never loosens its grip.

In the opening scene, we are introduced to the religious elders, whose voices transcend law. When these men speak, they invoke the weight of God to sanction their cruelty. In this ironbound corner of Scotland, the word of the elders is the word of God.

A young girl comes before them for permission to marry an outsider. Bess (Emily Watson) is a young Scottish bride whose emotional fragility begins to heal with the love of her new husband, Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), and her sister-in-law, Dodo (Katrin Cartlidge), her brother's widow. Beginning with a wedding night wrapped in wonder and humor, Jan and Bess can barely believe the good fortune of their marriage. "She blossomed, didn't she," Jan will say later. When he has to return to his job on an offshore oil rig, Bess goes to pieces.

These are two people who have found great happiness, only to be struck down, almost instantly, by physical catastrophe and the church. The film explores their reactions to both in devastating detail. Neither of these good people does anything to invite the trouble that engulfs them.

Bess conducts a continuing personal dialogue with God, who usually does what she asks. When the consequences are horrific, she blames herself. When, suddenly, God doesn't answer her, she takes life into her own hands without his counsel or that of her beloved Jan. Cast out of the hospital, cast out of her home, cast out of her church, Bess unravels. In a hideous stretch of this movie that we would like to think is unnecessary--and it may well be--Bess behaves absolutely logically as she follows the commands of her delusions.

In an astonishing performance in a role that demands all things, Emily Watson captures Bess's innocence and uncomplicated joy. Then, minute by awful minute, she makes the death of Bess's soul too terrible to watch. Katrin Cartlidge gives Dodo a vast and entirely credible intelligence, and Stellan Skarsgard brings a marvelous range of warmth and ice to Jan.

Mr. von Trier has given us visual chapter headings, pretty postcards almost, that picture a still moment of what we are about to see. As these images jump to life, beauty vanishes and turmoil explodes.

It is extremely difficult to live for a few hours in a world of depravity brought on by men in the name of God. Why should you do it? Because Lars von Trier has made a movie of tremendous power with a superb cast and three luminous performances. It's very simple: there are times when that's enough.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 490
Studio : October Films
Rating : NR
Running Time: 2h38m

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