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"Breaking the Waves"
154 minutes | Rated: R
LIMITED: Friday, November 20, 1996
Directed by Lars von Trier
Starring Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard, Katrin Cartlidge, Jean-Marc Barr, Adrian Rawlins, Jonathan Hackett, Sandra Voe, Udo Kier
This film is #1 on the Best of 1996 list.
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 50%
WIDESCREEN: A MUST
This film was not designed for the small screen in any way, so to get the full emotional knockout - to truly be blown away by it and understand my review - you'll have to duplicate the theatrical experience as much as possible. Watch the film on the biggest screen you can, and be sure to watch it with a good sound system, as there are almost subliminal details in the audio that enhance the film's gripping element of voyeurism. Watch with the lights out and do not pause the movie for anything. If you do, you'll break the spell.
The fantastic 2-disc import available from Xploited Cinema is the only version of this film you should buy. Not only has the US release been altered from the theatrical version (some censorship and a vitally evocative song changed on the soundtrack in an important moment of the film), but it also doesn't include the bevy of extras offered here.
On Disc One, the film is lovingly transferred and given a selected-scene commentary with von Trier and editor Anders Refn (interviewed by von Trier's "Dogville" cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle). Their voice-over covers only 45 minutes of the film (with a "play all" feature), but right off the bat it is rich and insightful. "Lars and I decided we should cut emotionally," says Refn, referring to the movie's "violent time cuts." "We shouldn't respect the rules of visual continuity" and they chose "emotional storytelling, not rational storytelling." This commentary delves into many engrossing details and may be worth hearing more than once for those blown away by the film.
Disc Two is fat with extras, including deleted scenes with some rather surprising plot developments and clarifications (but every single cut was absolutely the right choice). These feature optional commentary by von Trier as well, in which he's rather amusing as he holds nothing back about his decisions to cut each scene for the sake of deliberate emotional ambiguity.
Also featured are Emily Watson's audition (it's nothing short of stunning how fully formed her take on the character is), a montage of outtakes dedicated to the memory of actress Katrin Cartlidge (who passed away in 2002), and "Waves"-related excerpts from 1997's "Tranceformer," a documentary about von Trier, which collectively serve as a raw and very personal making-of featurette.
Disc One is Region 0, which means it's compatable with any DVD player worldwide. Disc Two is Region 2, which means you'll need a region-free DVD player to watch it in the US. Both discs are in PAL format, so you'll need a PAL-to-NTSC converter for American TVs (although most region-free DVD players have the converter built it).
OTHER NOTABLE BONUS MATERIAL
Half a dozen Lars von Trier trailers.
SOUND & PICTURE
2.35:1 (16x9 enhanced); 5.1 Dolby, 2.0 Dolby
Pristine on both counts, but keep in mind that for artistic reasons the film is grainy and the sound imperfect, to give the film a more spontaneous feel.
Subtitles available in 13 languages.
DVD RATING: ****
OTHER REVIEWS/COMING SOON
Von Trier's voyeuristic meditation on religion, sacrifice and the power of love is a masterpiece
Quite simply the most emotionally devastating film I have ever seen, "Breaking the Waves" left me numb from ringing sadness, desperate loneliness and fuming anger.
A remarkable unknown named Emily Watson plays a joyful and naive but emotionally faithful and strong-willed Scottish girl in a strict Calvinist community who, desperately in love, marries an oil rig worker, an outsider. For her it is a sexual awakening as well as a tender, all-encompassing love to which she dedicates her entire being. So when her husband has to go back to work on the rig for a spell, she prays that he somehow come home to her sooner than scheduled.
He does come home -- paralyzed in an accident on board the rig for which she blames herself and the power of her prayers.
He encourages her to take a lover and describe their sex to him, saying it would, for him, be like they were together. She finds this impossible at first, but begins to obey her husband out of deep and unwavering faith. When it appears he might be recovering, she carries her misguided dedication to an unthinkable conclusion.
Shot entirely with hand-held cameras by director Lars von Trier ("Zentropa," "The Kingdom"), the voyeuristic quality adds immensely to the personal nature of the story. It feels like a home movie at times, which provides a framework that allows for some slow moments (the film is 156 minutes), but also provides for very personal depth.
The night I returned home from seeing "Breaking the Waves," my phone rang twice and I didn't answer it -- I couldn't cope with anything remotely real until I came to terms with the emotions in the film.
As much as I adored this movie, I don't know if I could see it again, yet I feel I must. I can't honestly recommend it to anyone who is depressed or lonely in the slightest, because it is so heartbreaking, so sorrowful. But there is no better example of why film is such a powerful medium.