Thursday, May 20, 2010

Breaking the Waves

Lars von Trier is often referred to as a misogynist. I couldn't find this to be further from the truth. von Trier's films typically depict the point of life of a female lead (Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Manderlay, Breaking the Waves, Antichrist). While the women in these films are typically put through hell, I don't feel it is due to von Trier's disgust for women. Instead, von Trier's films are focused on the effects of religion on society. On women. And, in religion, women are pushed aside... removed from society... cast away. Made to feel less than equal to men. von Trier is only portraying an extreme view of women through the eyes of 'god.'

Lars von Trier may be the greatest filmmaker working today. He captures emotion and struggle like Bergman. He shoots films better than Altman. And, he is jack of many trades like Kuberick. In fact, one could go so far as to say von Trier is the contemporary Kubrick. Kubrick created many different styles of film: horror (The Shining), war (Full Metal Jacket), literary (Clockwork Orange), sci-fi (2001), and comedy (Dr. Strangelove). von Trier has created many different styes of film, too: comedy (Boss of it All), horror (Antichrist), musical (Dancer in the Dark), film noir (Elements of Crime), literary (Dogville), etc. von Trier is a master of his trade. Overlooked due to his experimental way of filming and the requirements he places on his audience.

I have wanted to see Breaking the Waves for almost five years. The film has been out of print and close to impossible to get ahold of until I happened to stumble across it by accident as a rental. I was worried about the film. It is part one in a trilogy that ends with Dancer in the Dark. Anyone who has seen Dancer in the Dark knows the emotional toll of that film. I was worried Breaking the Waves would be just as taxing. While Dancer in the Dark is much more painful, Breaking the Waves is equally frustrating and heartbreaking.

A simple minded Bess falls in love and marries Jan. After a freak accident leaves Jan paralyzed, he requests Bess go out and have sex with strangers. Jan wants Bess to retell her sexual encounters to him. He feels this keeps their sex life alive. He wants to live through her actions since he can no longer participate in the physical. At the time, this seems acceptable. Then, one realizes how sick Jan is. And, his request may be coming from a disturbed, dark rooted desire to destroy Bess just as he is destroyed.

The magic of von Trier is how many questions he asks. How much he forces the audience to pay close attention to the actions and desires of each character. His are not films one can breeze through and move on from quickly. They linger for quite awhile.


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