I have to admit that I enjoyed writing about Lars von Trier’s films, although I may not be competent enough because he is a very eccentric and special director. However, I know for sure that I like his films because they are something different, something original in the film domain, at least as far as my impression is concerned. That’s why this time I decided to present you a film from my “Holy Trinity” – and that trinity consists of Dogville, Antichrist and the film I present to you – Breaking the Waves.
The plot of this film takes place in the 70s of the last century in a small rural community in the north of Scotland. The inhabitants of that place belong to a special sect that pretends to be very religious and restrictive, and in fact the church decides on behalf of these people and has very strict rules in all areas of social life. The still very young and undoubtedly naive girl Bes McNeill (Emily Watson) in some way threatens that community when she falls in love with a foreigner Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgård), a Dane who works on nearby oil platforms in the North Sea and decides to marry him. Although the community is essentially against that marriage, they give her permission and Bes marries Jan. However, when the idyllic honeymoon is over, Jan must return to the platform and leave Bes alone with his mother. Anger finds it difficult to come to terms with that and becomes more and more depressed, she starts praying to God to bring Jana home as soon as possible, which will happen in the end, but not in the way she imagined.
We have already written about the biography of Lars von Trier and about him as a director. He is known for his famous chapters in film and makes films that have a head and a tail and none of his projects are incomplete. We have a total of eight chapters here, each with a great and appropriate musical background, and everything is composed so as to contradict each other. The first chapter is called “The Rage of Marriage” and it brings us an introduction to the story and introduction to the characters. The second chapter is called “Life with Jan” and brings us the most beautiful phase, not only of the film, but also of the life of our heroine Bess. The third chapter has the symbolic title “Living Alone” and gives us a real insight into how anger is very difficult to deal with Jan’s absence.
The fourth chapter is called “Jan’s disease” and brings us the true essence of what the two of them became, precisely because of Jan’s accident. The fifth chapter is called “Doubt” and from this chapter begins Besina’s madness. The sixth chapter is called “Faith”, which is presented to us in a slightly different, unusual way, but in a way that corresponds to the new situation. The seventh chapter is called “Besina’s Victim”, which, in my opinion, brings the essence of her madness. At the end, we have an epilogue of a very symbolic name that I will not mention because I will give you the very end of the film. Basically, let me conclude – this film is actually about how someone’s life can turn into hell in an instant.
I will now turn to the cast, which is as impressive as usual. I don’t think only because of the complexity of the roles and their courage to fulfill the director’s tasks in some physical sense such as nudity, so we have a full frontal of both Skarsgård and Watson. Much more important is their persuasiveness on a psychological level, the characters they play. Especially, then young Emily Watson, for whom this film was in a way an ID card. Her prayers and monologues with God are masterfully done so that at some point you will sympathize with her and her madness. It’s a pity that this actress is somehow undesirable today and thrown into the background because we see in this film what kind of untapped talent it is.
Not all talents can be recognized in time, but the film stars one, long-proven Stellan Skarsgård, a man who otherwise plays villains and labile characters. Here he excelled in the role of young Jan who just wants someone to love him and that he loves someone. The third person to carry this film is actress Katrin Cartlidge who plays the suspicious Besin’s sister Dodo, otherwise a nurse by profession. I haven’t heard of this actress before, and she’s an important part of the film because she really leaves an impression with her great acting.
Some declare this film the best film of that decade (1990s), and some say that the film did not bring anything special to the film world. However, in the sea of mostly fake related art films that we are overwhelmed with, and which this one strives for, this film stands out as something unusual because it contains incompatible styles of story and environment in which it is located, and the styles are so well combined, we can imagine that this film looks different.