The Film (4/5)
Bess is a woman who has spent her life living on an island off the coast of Scotland. The island is home to a rural community whose sole cultural and social center is the local Church. Due to the overwhelming presence of the church in the lives of the community, the people of the community have taken on a very fanatical religious way of being, so when Bess announces she will be marrying a Swedish oil rig worker named Jan the announcement creates waves in the community. The issues with Jan ranges from the fact that he is outsider, to the deeper issue that he is an atheist. Bess and Jan appear to have a good relationship on the surface, and Bess acts the part of the devoted and loving wife, so that when Jan is called back to the rig she begins to spiral into an extreme depression. She cannot shake her desire to be with him, at any cost, and prays to her God to bring him back, and never have him leave again.
Bess' wish is granted when an accident occurs on the rig leaving Jan paralyzed from the neck down. Bess' tries to maintain the loving relationship, but struggles with Jan's handicap. On top of that she was a virgin before their marriage, and having just discovered sexual pleasure is now having to live without. This is until Jan puts on the table his desire to open their relationship. She can take on additional lovers, but then has to discuss with him the details of her indiscretions. In order to do this she begins to dress in a more sexually attractive fashion which not only attracts men to her, but garners the attention of her extremely religious community, and adds strain to her relationship with the community.
Von Trier has said in recent years that he has personally begun to sway his long standing Catholicism toward a more atheistic viewpoint. However, when Breaking the Waves was released in 1996 one could easily view the work as that of a religious filmmaker, or at least a filmmaker struggling with the concept of religion. When watching Breaking the Waves one could view Bess as a simple human being trying to lead her life in the footsteps of her personal God. Someone who tries to be good for both her Church and her husband. Of course, on the other side of the coin it could just as easily be viewed as Bess being a woman traumatized by her religious upbringing, who now can only find solace in her frequent 2 way conversations with the personal God she has built in her own mind.
Breaking the Waves like his later films is an emotionally wrenching viewing experience. The power of the situation and the performances within create such an absolute powerful dramatic offering it could be said that Von Trier has yet to top this as his most emotionally balanced and mature work. It is beautifully shot by cinematographer Robby Muller, who has worked with everyone from Wim Wenders to William Friedkin to Jim Jarmusch, and more. The film is certainly a complex emotional experience, but it is a deeply rewarding one that may resonate with repeat viewings.
Criterion has brought Breaking the Waves to Blu-ray in a splendid 2:35:1 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer. The transfer looks quite nice, and offers excellent color reproduction and fine detail. There is a healthy amount of natural film grain present that gives the film a projected look which is quite nice.
The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in English. The track is quite suitable for the content with dialogue, music, and effects coming through nicely. I did not detect any issues such as cracks or hissing with the track.
Criterion have put together a massive package for Von Trier's breaking the waves. The director has included a selected scene commentary to start things off. We then get a series of interviews with the cast including Emity Watson, Stellan Skarsgard, and Adrian Rawlins. We then get an interview with film critic Stig Bjorkman about the evolution of Von Trier's style, and where Breaking the Waves fits in his oeuvre. There is also 3 minutes of Emity Watson's audition footage, a deleted scene declared in memory of the late Katrin Cartlidge, and following that a series of extended and deleted scenes. We also get a Cannes promo clip, the films trailer in HD, and a 32 page booklet.
Lars Von Trier's breakout film Breaking the Waves is a truly emotionally complex film experience, wonderfully acted, and gorgeously shot. The A/V on the Criterion Blu-ray is truly stunning, and the extras are elaborate and informative. As it stands Von Trier is a filmmaker whose work I cannot recommend to everyone, so while the film comes RECOMMENDED, the disc comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.