Palimpsest  

Go Back   Palimpsest > Reviews > Film Reviews


Tags
emily watson, stellen skarsgard, von trier


Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 13th Sep 2012, 12:26   #1
Colyngbourne
Administrator
is beyond help
 
Colyngbourne's Avatar
 
Join Date: 30 Apr 2003
Location: England
Posts: 10,735
Default Breaking the Waves

The 2012 Von-Trier-Fest in our household continued at the weekend with Breaking the Waves. There is a lag that occurs between the DVD arriving from LoveFilm and the big brave moment when we decide we are in the mood for watching 2 hrs+ of potentially traumatic material: for Antichrist it was nigh on three weeks, for BtW approx. 10 days.

So is there a correlation in the “trauma” stakes? And how much Von Trier is too much? And is he a misogynistic woman-torturer etc etc? And how should we interpret Emily Watson’s Bess – as a naïve innocent, a Holy Fool, or a woman with a degree of mental disablement/Special Needs? After reports of viewers being disturbed for days after this film, I was wary but then surprised to find it was another significantly good film from Von Trier. Not everyone thinks so.

This is very much a predecessor to Dancer in the Dark in its approach and storyline and in Bess, von Trier gives us a ‘heroine’ who is firstly innocent (and much loved), and secondly, whose heroism originates in her love as much as in her victimhood. Repressed to the point of ignorance by her 1960’s/early-70’s upbringing in remote Scotland, and dominated by the strictures and structures of the Calvinistic Wee Frees, Bess is freed into love by an incomer, Jan the Swedish oil-rigger (played to perfection by Stellen Skarsgard). She and he enjoy their early days of marriage but Bess cannot think outside their self-giving love. Her commitment to Jan is given joyous physical expression and devotion, as an outward manifestation, if you like, of her utter dedication to her God, to whom she prayers conversationally, providing for herself what she believes(?)/feels(?) are His answers in her own growling tenor tones. It is a disaster in the making , and more than that, a tragedy.

Of course this is a woman’s suffering we see: Jan’s physical suffering in the latter 2/3rds of the film is mostly merely the context against which Bess can slowly lose her outward identity and self, and suffer in body but also emotionally and spiritually. Just as Selma’s son is redeemed at the end of Dancer in the Dark, Jan receives his saving moment here at the end of the film but Breaking the Waves is partly contentious in that it posits the possibility that Bess’s faith has been instrumental in his resurrection. The invasive and artificial closing shot of the film implies Bess’s sacrifice is applauded in heaven – that, indeed, as in It’s A Wonderful Life, an angel has got its wings. (And there are many bells ringing throughout this film, calling our attention to this.)

And yet, and yet, I really can’t condemn the ideas in this film. It seems quite obvious that Bess is deluded and mistaken in her idea that her actions will effect a medical change in the man she adores, but the bells ring anyway because she has been utterly self-giving to that end. She has acted in ways that are distressing and devalue her in the world’s eyes but as her doctor friend calmly states at the coroner’s inquest, she was not psychotic or neurotic but merely “good”.

Interestingly, what I had heard about the film over the last few years did not match very much with what I watched. My understanding of Jan’s possible villainy was refined since it appears that he is himself mentally altered by physiological damage, by pharmacological treatment and by mental/emotional instability or depression due to his accident. He recognises that what he has asked of Bess is due to the “evil that is in his head”, and latterly Jan is wholly unaware of the extreme degree to which she has taken his injunction and enacted it.

Breaking the Waves is rather extraordinary, perhaps more so than Dancer in the Dark, because it suggests goodness in awfulness, that victimhood (of one’s own choosing) is more complicated than a director wanting to turn all women into sluts or angels or possibly both simultaneously. Emily Watson was both agonising and luminous in this, and it deserves a good

½
__________________
Currently reading: The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins | My reading list | My film list

Last edited by Colyngbourne; 14th Sep 2012 at 16:43. Reason: spelling and weird words
Colyngbourne is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 14th Sep 2012, 14:56   #2
Noumenon
Senior Palimpsester

has the freedom of Palimp City
 
Noumenon's Avatar
 
Join Date: 13 Jul 2006
Location: Madrid, Spain
Posts: 3,786
Default Re: Breaking the Waves

I'm very pleased to see a positive review of this film, as you say it alway seems to get criticised, even from within von Trier's own fanbase. It must be more than ten years since I watched it, but I remember finding its harshness typically "rewarding" in that uncomfortable LvT manner. Watson and Skarsgard were both really very good, and I was completely fine with that remarkable closing event. At least a for me, looking back.

I don't know if, by so explicitly disrupting his relentlessly and cruelly mundane world with an moment of actual heavenly reward, LvT means to be generally provocative or to directly mock the faithful, but I thought it was a perfect fit. In just the same way that the witnessed miracle in Marcelino Pan y Vino was the right ending for that story, this was the right ending for Breaking the Waves, whether you see it as pure fantasy or not.

---

Having said how much I generally admire LvT's work, I've still not seen Meloncholia, mainly because I've yet to pluck up the courage to watch Antichrist and I'd prefer to watch his output in the order they were made. I stalled watching the Dogville sequel pretty early on, and knowing that my significant other probably won't want to see Mel or Ant at all leaves me with the dubious prostpect of sitting down to watch them alone, probably in the middle of a weekday afternoon. Hardly the ideal moment for some emotional torment, if there is one.
Noumenon is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 14th Sep 2012, 16:37   #3
Colyngbourne
Administrator
is beyond help
 
Colyngbourne's Avatar
 
Join Date: 30 Apr 2003
Location: England
Posts: 10,735
Default Re: Breaking the Waves

Actually a weekday afternoon was when I watched Antichrist with my older daughter (18 ) - we thought that unlikely context would remove some of the nerves of watching it. And she didn't want to watch it on her own, nor to watch it for the first time with her boyfriend, so she 'innoculated' herself by watching it with me first. We watched Melancholia on an evening though, with Mr Col as well (he wasn't quite up to Antichrist).
__________________
Currently reading: The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins | My reading list | My film list
Colyngbourne is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply



Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
 
Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Breaking Bad bill Other Reviews 39 30th Oct 2014 14:54
Ocean Waves Colyngbourne Film Reviews 0 21st Aug 2012 15:20
Breaking Dawn Colyngbourne Film Reviews 1 23rd Nov 2011 11:42


All times are GMT +1. The time now is 1:48.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.