Breaking The Waves follows one of Lars Von Trier‘s habits of starting with a happy scenario before tragedy quickly sneaks its way in. Here, shy, religious Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) marries laddish oil rig worker Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgård) and they make their home in an idyllic cottage by the coast. unfortunately, newly-married life gives away to life behaving as it does, and Jan is off back to work, which can take him away for long stretches at a time.
However, Bess’ religious faith is tested when Jan is paralysed whilst working on the rigs, following an accident, and then her life looks like it could change a lot more when Jan – unable to provide the goods at bedtime – urges her to have it away with another and then tell him all about it.
Lars Von Trier generally has a knack of making films you can enjoy, even though you don’t realise it at first. For example, with this one, I just let the film wash over me as it meandered on during the first hour, but it mostly grabbed me unawares. It also has good support from the late Katrin Cartlidge as nurse and friend to the couple, Dodo McNeill; Jean-Marc Barr as Jan’s colleague and best friend Terry; Adrian Rawlins as Jan’s doctor, Dr. Richardson; Jonathan Hackett as the stern Priest; Sandra Voe as Bess’ overbearing mother, and there’s an actor called David Bateson simply playing the role of Young Sailor. Recognise the name? You should if you know your videogames as he plays the voice of (and provided the likeness for) Codename 47 in the Hitman series. There’s also Udo Kier, whose role will become clear as you watch the film.
What wasn’t very clear, and I won’t spoil it here, was the last couple of chapters in the film. I had to read up on it afterwards, and then rewatch them, and they made a lot more sense. Why did it all work out that way? Well, you can put that down to the baffling mind of Lars Von Trier. God knows what goes on in that man’s head, but he rarely puts out a film that isn’t worth watching.
Breaking The Waves is on a par with Nymphomaniac but not quite as good as Melancholia, the latter of which is one of my favourite films of his along with Dancer in the Dark, but anything beats the rambling tediousness of Antichrist, aside from the intriguing moments of disability forced upon Willem Defoe by Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The film is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition and at first I thought it had a horrendously grainy image in the indoor scenes… well, it kind-of does, but any visual impairment is intentional because the film is set in the early 1970s so there’s a dull-looking, sepia-toned effect to reflect on how dull the decade itself looked. The outdoor scenes of the stunning Scottish highlands show that there’s no problem whatsoever, so you can be confident in the image on display.
The audio is in DTS HD 5.1 option, and while it’s not a special FX film, the dialogue and incidental music comes across crystal clear. However, there’s no particular use of split-surround effects, or perhaps anything much going on in the rears. That is except for the very final moment in the film, which I won’t spoil here for those who haven’t seen it.
The extras on this disc are as follows:
- Excerpts from the documentary “Tranceformer – A Film About Lars Von Trier” (17:26): I haven’t seen Tranceformer, but it’s a 52-minute documentary and I’m guessing these excerpts are all the clips about Breaking The Waves, whereas the rest of it mentions other films. There’s on-set filming and chat from cast and crew members, often in Swedish and Danish language but with English subtitles for the foreign-speaking segments. You can find out more info about it here.
- Interview with Adrian Rawlins (2:09): A brief chat with the actor behind Dr Richardson, and Lars’ love for free-forming and going off-script.
- Casting of Emily Watson (2:03): Emily Watson’s audition, with optional director’s commentary. Rather than have switchable audio on the same video (as is how this thing used to be done), it’s two separate videos. Is it so hard to do it the proper way?
- In Memory of Katrin Cartlidge (1:10): A short scene featuring the late actress, who died in 2002 due to complications from pneumonia and septicaemia, at the young age of 41.
- Lars Von Trier Promo Clip (0:15): Made for the Cannes Film Festival 1996, Lars introduces the film for those about to watch it.
- Deleted Scenes (3:33, 2:43): Two here, shown at somewhere between 16:9 and 2.35:1, these are partly like extended scenes with some new bits. I don’t think either needs to be put back as they are shown here. There’s also optional commentary, as there is, too, for…
- 2 Extended scenes (4:42): Two more low-quality clips. The second one has an interesting difference, but in all cases with these, I wouldn’t change what’s in the film.
- Trailer (2:00): In the original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio. It gives away rather too much, so watch the film first.
- Selected audio commentary: This runs throughout the whole film, but during sections of it you’ll hear discussion from Lars Von Trier and editor Anders Refn, as they’re interviewed by Dod Mantle.
Subtitles are noticeable by their absence. Where are they? Nymphomaniac had them! And when it comes to the chaptering, I feel one should come every five minutes on average. A lot of distributors go for a low 12 however long the film. Artificial Eye’s chaptering tends to vary from disc to disc. Unfortunately, here, it’s just the same old 12. LVT’s films are not short. This one lasts 159 minutes. This is ridiculous. They don’t even always kick in at the same time as LVT’s own in-built chapters!
The menu features clips of the film set to its incidental music playing in the background.
Running time: 159 minutes
Released: November 10th 2014
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Super 35)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Lars von Trier
Producers: Peter Aalbæk Jensen and Vibeke Windeløv
Screenplay: Lars von Trier, Peter Asmussen and David Pirie
Bess McNeill: Emily Watson
Jan Nyman: Stellan Skarsgård
Dodo McNeill: Katrin Cartlidge
Terry: Jean-Marc Barr
Dr. Richardson: Adrian Rawlins
Priest: Jonathan Hackett
Mother: Sandra Voe
Sadistic Sailor: Udo Kier
Pits: Mikkel Gaup
Pim: Roef Ragas
Grandfather: Phil McCall
Chairman: Robert Robertson
An Elder: Desmond Reilly
Young Sailor: David Bateson
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.