Movies » Movie Critic's Choice

Breaking the Waves



A breakthrough feature by Lars von Trier--the postmodernist Danish director of The Element of Crime, Zentropa, and The Kingdom--this all-stops-out melodrama set on the remote north coast of Scotland in the early 70s produces some waves of its own. The plot concerns a naive young woman (a galvanizing performance by Emily Watson) who falls in love with a worldly oil-rig worker (Stellan Skarsgard) and marries him despite some opposition from her tightly knit Calvinist community. When the husband is paralyzed by an explosion, he persuades her to find a lover and describe her sexual experiences to him. Shot by the great Robby Müller, the film shifts powerfully between dizzying handheld footage (given an unusual texture by having been transferred to video and then back to film) recounting the harrowing story and gorgeous, digitally doctored chapter headings that linger meditatively over landscapes to the accompaniment of pop songs of the period. Improbably combining elements from Carl Dreyer and Federico Fellini, this 159-minute feature shamelessly pushes the audience's emotions to the breaking point--you won't come out of it indifferent, and even if it winds up enraging you (I could have done without most of the ending myself), it nonetheless commands attention. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, November 29 through December 5

--Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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