Breaking the Waves

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One hundred and fifty-nine minutes are a very long sit when it takes only one or two to turn against a movie. The floating, bobbing, yawing camera, intermittently going woozily out of focus, is as immediately irritating as the one in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives. And the mud-in-your-eye monochrome gives Lars von Trier's movie a slight edge in immediateness of irritation. (The estimable Robby Müller was the man behind the camera -- behind the camera but, presumably, under the thumb as well.) The computerized paintings-in-motion for the handful of chapter headings -- "Bess Gets Married," "Life with Jan," "Life Alone," etc. -- are precious oases of color and calm. The rest might have been easier to bear if the storyline also had been. It has to do with a young Scotswoman "not right in the head," in unspecified ways, who goes against her strict Calvinist community when she marries an Outsider -- an oil-rig worker soon paralyzed in an accident -- and who goes further against the community when, at her husband's urging, she strives to "keep him alive" via stimulating oral reports of her squalid sexual adventures with strangers. Periodically she talks directly to God, reciting His lines aloud as well as her own. And at the end she is sitting near Him on a cloud, ringing heaven's bells over the open sea -- literally. This out-of-the-blue ending, after the husband is restored (without explanation or comment) to good health, has elicited references to Carl Dreyer's Ordet. (Von Trier, Dreyer's countryman, had smoothed the way by using the cameraman of Ordet on his own Zentropa.) The difference between the two endings, and between the two moviemakers, could be boiled down to this: you can believe Dreyer believes. Emily Watson, Katrin Cartlidge, Stellan Skarsgard. (1996) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R | 2 hours, 39 minutes
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