Breaking the Waves
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Time Out saysThe '70s, North-West Scotland: despite opposition from the Calvinist community in which she lives, Bess (Watson) is sufficiently sure God looks kindly on her love for oil-rig worker Jan (Skarsgård) that she marries him. When he returns to the rig, however, she can barely tolerate his absence, and prays for his return - which he does, paralysed and perhaps brain-damaged by an accident. Distraught that his wife's brief sexual bliss is over, Jan suggests she take lovers and describe her liaisons afterwards, so they might still enjoy sex by proxy. Bess consents reluctantly - until, that is, she comes to believe that the sacrifices she's making will restore Jan's health, or at least save his life. Meanwhile, the villagers ostracise her as a whore. This epic melodrama about love, faith, suffering and redemption is emotionally overwhelming. Its raw power is assured not only by the forthright performances and the increasingly cruel, violent events of the last hour, but by Robby Müller's edgily realist 'Scope camerawork. It's a rapt movie, and so wrapped up in its own harrowing dynamics that it finally, perhaps, goes too far in subjecting its selfless heroine to pain and indignity; is this sympathy or sadism? That said, it's a remarkable achievement for all concerned, with Katrin Cartlidge, as Bess's widowed sister-in-law, sharing the acting laurels with the radiant Emily Watson, and writer/director Lars von Trier building the emotional and dramatic intensity with consummate skill.