Entertainment :: Movies

Breaking the Waves

by Jake Mulligan
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Thursday Apr 24, 2014
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The recent and oft-discussed release of "Nymphomaniac" has Lars von Trier, the pranksterish Danish filmmaker behind "The Idiots" and "Antichrist," on the minds of film lovers. That makes now the perfect moment for a much-needed high-def re-release of "Breaking the Waves," perhaps Trier’s strongest work to date.

This film sees Emily Watson’s devout spiritualist become entranced by Stellan Skarsgard’s Jan and by life’s carnal pleasures simultaneously, and then sees her soul laid naked once that man and those pleasures are taken from her. It’s a movie that reverberates within everything that von Trier has made since. His depictions of strong-willed-but-constantly-battered women, his purposefully raw handheld camerawork, his pop-artist use of rock music and other recognizable needle-drops, and so much more: Everything we’ve come to associate with von Trier is present, accounted for, and quite prominent in "Breaking the Waves."

We can argue about whether or not "Waves" is the clearest distillation of von Trier’s artistic voice, but one way or the other, Criterion has given it a release befitting a masterpiece. First off, the video transfer: The film, lensed on celluloid, has been transferred to disc via an ultra-high-quality 6K scan. That means that every bit of film grain, every flash of light, every contour of Watson’s face, and every hand-drawn title card is represented here in all their meticulously messy aestheticized glory, as clear and defined as they would be on a cinema screen. It’s a beautiful restored presentation of a brutal movie -- an absolutely necessary upgrade if you’ve only seen the film via DVD.

Then there’s a near-inexhaustible selection of extras on the disc. Even the most dedicated von Trier fan will need a couple sittings to get through all of them. There are interviews with three of the primary cast members, accounting for more than a half-hour on their own (Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard’s interviews were just conducted last year, while the few minutes with actor Adrian Rawlins were filmed about a decade ago.) You also get footage of Watson’s audition, about ten minutes worth of (dispensable) deleted scenes, and a jokey introduction von Trier sent to the Cannes Film Festival alongside "Waves" when it played the fest in 1996. Finally, there’s about 45 minutes worth of feature commentary with von Trier, his editor Anders Refn, and the now-lauded cinematographer par excellence Anthony Dod Mantle. (As opposed to speaking over the whole film, the creative team gives their thoughts over specific scenes.)

Perhaps the most interesting extra, though, is an interview with noted film critic Stig Bjorkman, who suggests that "Breaking the Waves" is the "breakthrough" film in von Trier’s career. An interview with von Trier conducted by Bjorkman is included in the booklet that comes with the discs -- and it reiterates what an important film this is in terms of von Trier’s development. It’s an astute and perhaps an undeniable take on a quite elusive artist: "Breaking the Waves" may or may not be von Trier’s greatest film, but it’s almost certainly the film that lays his artistic interests and intentions most bare.

"Breaking the Waves"
Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Release
$39.95
criterion.com

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