For Reel

Breaking the Waves (1996)
November 14, 2015, 9:03 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Lars von Trier
4 Stars
Breaking the WavesTwo points of reference that Emily Watson had in interpreting the character of Breaking the Waves‘s Bess McNeill were Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc and Giulietta Masina in La Strada. Fittingly, she plays the modern saint with an appropriate mix of Falconetti’s reserve and piousness and Masina’s childishness. In her two-way conversations with God, Bess prays with high-pitched, pleading tones, and in his responses she takes on a patriarchal inflection. As with Masina, Bess seems too good and innocent for this world, ultimately succumbing to the corruption of modernity and the increasingly blurred line that separates love and cruelty. While Lars von Trier’s films sometimes play as existential jokes that revel too heartily in the outrageous and masochistic, Breaking the Waves is challenged by its converse relationships between faith and logic, as well as the aforementioned relationship between all-consuming love and self-flagellation. It’s an ugly film, but it feels all too appropriate as a modern portrayal of saintliness.

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