Breaking the Waves is a surprisingly spiritual film whose effect gradually sneaks up on you throughout its length. Emily Watson stars as Bess, an innocent and naive girl raised in a stern northern Scottish village. At the film’s outset, she pleads for and is granted permission to marry an outsider by the church elders. The outsider in question is Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), a bearish worker on an oil rig in the North Sea. The first few days of their marriage are wonderful…but soon it becomes obvious that Bess is a bit simple. She devotes herself fully to Jan, and when he has to leave she is overly stricken with grief. In one of many conversations with God, Bess asks for Jan’s swift return. Her wish is granted…Jan is involved in a serious accident on the oil rig, and returns paralyzed. Bess believes that he will only get better through love, and to prove her love she submits herself fully to his wishes. Her faith is tested when he asks her to take a lover and tell him the juicy details. At over two and a half hour in length, Breaking the Waves takes its time to unfold. But when it does, you truly feel as if you know the characters. The film paces its developments, and manages to sustain and even build your interest as it progresses. Emily Watson is impressive in her role, playing it with childlike innocence. You can’t help but feel for her character. Some of the film’s twists strain credibility and are unwanted, but the film stays true to its own standards. The worst part of Breaking the Waves that it is poorly shot. Even for an independent film, the camerawork is sloppy. The film is divided into chapters, each of which has a beautifully shot opening sequence, which only makes the out of focus and jittery work in the rest of the film all the more obvious. Director Lars Von Trier has managed to create a slightly flawed work examining faith, doubt and spirituality.
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