LARS VON TRIER:
"I wanted to do a film about goodness. When I was
little, I had a children's book called Golden Heart (a Danish
fairytale), which I have a very strong and fond memory of. It was a
picture book about a little girl who went out into the woods with pieces
of bread and other things in her pocket. But at the end of the book,
after she's passed through the woods, she stands naked and without
anything. And the last sentence in the book was: 'I'll be fine anyway,'
said Golden Heart. It expressed the role of the martyr in its most
extreme form. I reread the book several times, even though my father
regarded it as the worst trash you could imagine. The story for
Breaking the Waves probably has its origin there. Golden Heart is
the film's Bess. I also wanted to do a film with a religious motif, a
film about miracles. At the same time I wanted to do a completely
"It is a curious mixture of religion and eroticism and possession. The
well-known actors we turned to didn't dare put their careers on the line
- for example, Helena Bonham Carter pulled out of the production at the
very last minute. That's why it felt important to find some actors who
really had the enthusiasm to participate."
"The original title was Amor Omnie (ie, 'Love is
Omnipresent'), the motto Gertrud wanted on her gravestone in
Dreyer's film. But when my producer heard that title, he almost hit the
roof. He found it difficult to imagine that anyone would want to see a
film called Amor Omnie."
Von Trier discusses a scene
At the Danish Film Studios at Lyngby, a church
interior was constructed on the biggest sound stage. The wedding
reception and all of the hospital interiors were also shot in Denmark.
The outdoor scenes were filmed on the isle of Skye, as well as in NW
Scotland in the towns of Lochailort, Mallaig and Morar.
"I saw Element of Crime in a film festival and I remember
thinking, 'This is an interesting man. I'd like to work with this
director when he gets interested in people. Breaking the Waves
was the most free way I had ever worked on a film. He had a big sign
on the set that said 'Make Mistakes', and that's lovely for an actor
- that makes you brave."
"The way I wanted to portray him was different from other characters
in love that I've done. Normally when I play a person who is in
love, I mix the love with a little narcissism, a little selfishness
- all those things we all have in us that are the reason that
nothing is ever pure. But this love had to be absolutely pure. That
is the key, his longing for the pure emotions...
The relationship between Jan and Bess had to feel totally
real. And there is just 10 minutes at the beginning of the film to
show happy love. And how the hell do you show happy love? It's very
hard to do sex scenes so that they turn out well. It's like this: a
fuck feels divine, but it looks quite
"The point of the film isn't to prove that God does or doesn't
exist. Rather, it's a fairy tale about the power of love and faith,
and it presents an image of pure love we should all aspire to but
few of us will ever experience... It's a very strong film, but some
people hate it. Some people find the film blasphemous, others think
it's misogynistic, while others dismiss it as cheap soap opera...
It's very fortunate that Jesus wasn't a woman, because,
in that case, they would have thought that
the Bible was a really shitty book. It makes absolutely no
difference if it was a man or a woman in that role. The film is not
about gender. It is about love."
"It's incredible how fast she took to the part. She didn't try to be
'professional' or 'skillful' or any of those stupid things people do
to be impressive. It was more like she stripped away all the things
civilization plants on you, and went back and became a child - with
all of a child's naivete and directness... She was fantastic.
I was a little nervous in the beginning, because she was British,
which means she had to have other ideas about nakedness and sex
scenes than we Scandinavians have, and it was her first film, and it
was a woman's part that is written maybe every 20th year. And she
was terror stricken. But she knew that if she could do this, she
would never need to be afraid again. She showed enormous courage."
"It's easy to understand why Emily Watson was
nominated for an Oscar... Backing up Watson is Swedish actor Stellan
Skarsgård, whose tender eyes in the early scenes tell us exactly what
Jan sees in the childlike Bess." ...Orlando
"Ms. Watson creates Bess with a devastating
immediacy, and she deeply rewards the camera's penetrating gaze. Also
very good is Mr. Skarsgård as the sturdy masculine presence so vital to
the story." ...NY Times
"Stellan Skarsgård as Jan is appropriately
bearish when vertical, and wheedling when horizontal." ...National
Powerful, well-crafted, consummately acted.
Played by Stellan Skarsgård, big, long-haired Jan is visceral and
life-affirming, drinking and listening to rock music with his pals."
...Movie Magazine International
Emily Watson deserved all the praise she received for
her outstanding portrayal of Bess. Also, a word of praise for
Stellan Skarsgård, who plays Bess's husband Jan: he takes a severely
underwritten role (his character has about ten lines total) and gives a
sense of the character's presence and good humor." ...Christopher
"As the deeply disturbed Bess, British stage
actress Emily Watson turns in an award-worthy performance... The
supporting players, including Stellan Skarsgård and Katrin Cartlidge, do
fine jobs, but none captures the lens the way Watson does."
...Film critic James Berardinelli
"Von Trier sets up Bess for tragedy and his movie for
a miracle... Bess' introduction to sex by Jan, forcefully played
by Skarsgård, has an uncommon carnal intimacy. ...Rolling
"Watson's performance is mesmerizing... What
does make Breaking The Waves worth seeing are the
performances." ...Toronto Sun
"Stellan Skarsgård is just right as Jan, a
worldly-wise man who delights in his wife's large reserves of wonder,
enthusiasm, and devotion." ...Spirituality and Health
"There are other performances worth noting here,
particularly Skarsgård, Katrin Cartlidge as Bess' sister-in-law and
Adrian Rawlins as a sympathetic doctor. ...Deseret News
"Von Trier encourages his actors to lay bare their
emotions for the integrity of the film and consequently he draws
sterling, naturalistic performances from the strong international cast.
As well, much of the dialogue seems improvised, which brings unforced
emotions and a feeling of spontaneity to the film... Skarsgård does well
with a difficult part, convincingly portraying Jan's frustration and
bitterness." ...Film critic Greg King
"Watson is central and impressive, while Skarsgård
brings a weight to the role which imparts believability to Bess'
actions. Jan isn't exactly perfect yet he isn't malicious either, just
confused, selfish and desperate - a tricky balance."
...Movie Reviews UK
"Bess is a naive Scottish maid who falls in love with
an Oilrig worker Jan, played to perfection by Stellan Skarsgård."
"Stellan Skarsgård plays Jan as an imperfect yet
admirable husband, the kind of robust fellow who can truly demand your
sympathy when he's laid up in a hospital bed. His playful physicality in
the early scenes is key to the rest of his performance, since we need
something to remember him by once he's supine and under the influence of
drugs and depression." ...Deep Focus
"Newcomer Emily Watson carries the film with her
riveting Oscar-nominated portrayal of Bess... Watson gets ample backup
from Danish veteran Stellan Skarsgård as the understated Jan."
"Von Trier... explores territory of the human soul
here that hasn't been charted as boldly since Ingmar Bergman's heyday.
The purity of Watson's performance should win every heart it touches...
He also draws fine work out of Skarsgård, Katrin Cartlidge as
Bess' concerned sister-in-law and Adrian Rawlins as a skeptical doctor."
...L.A. Daily News
"Von Trier's selection of Watson is inspired. The
young English actress, in her first film, gives a mind-boggling
performance. Supporting her is a veteran cast led by Skarsgård, a
well-known Scandinavian stage actor, who gives a great performance as a
gentle lug, paralyzed by fate." ...The Record
"Emily Watson's portrayal of Bess' deep love for her
oil-rigger husband and her profound faith in God is an extraordinary
characterization of a round-eyed innocent... Stellan Skarsgård is nicely
cast as the gentle, lusty husband." ...The
"Spurred by Watson the remaining cast perform
magnificently, especially Skarsgård, who has to do so much flat on his
back. Cartlidge's plainly decent Dodo, trapped between love for Bess and
a man she doesn't trust, affirms her position as one of our finest
actresses." ...The Edge
"The huge and insistent close-ups draw the most from
the actors. Skarsgård and Cartlidge in particular are excellent. As for
Watson, she is superb, showing us both the desperation of love and the
terrible vulnerability of faith." ...Mail & Guardian
"Breaking the Waves has a sense of
timelessness indigenous to many movies about religious faith, the flame
of passion and all-consuming love. It is reminiscent of Carl Theodor
Dreyer's 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc or Alain Cavalier's
"In the production notes on the DVD, the actors
mention the freedom they enjoyed while filming - being able to improvise
within a scene and not being required to hit certain "marks". This
technique certainly paid off, for Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson
portray Jan and Bess with naturalistic performances that are
breathtaking in their emotional range and realism. ...DVD
"More than anything, though, Breaking the Waves
is an experience, a movie that invites you, with moment-to-moment
intimacy, to share the psychic space of its characters, to enter a world
in which love, madness, sex, physical paralysis, glitter rock, and the
presence of God flow in and out of each other." ...Entertainment
"The main attraction is the tremendous performance by
Emily Watson as the simple young woman... But there is also stunning
work by co-stars Katrin Cartlidge and Stellan Skarsgård and the
delirious cinematography of Robby Muller. A profoundly spiritual and
haunting movie." ...Newsday
"It is, quite simply, a masterpiece - a film that
touches every emotional base while it refuses us a safe haven on any of
them... A virgin, and completely naive about sex, Bess falls in love
with a strapping oil-rig worker, played with tenderness as well as
worldliness by Stellan Skarsgård." ...The Virginian
"Von Trier has forged a myth of modem romantic faith
that could haunt almost anyone into believing." ...Sight
"Perfect love and unshakable faith are defined with
expressive brilliance in Breaking the Waves... The chapter title
segments are breathtaking grace notes -- and unlike anything I've ever
seen on screen... Von Trier also guides his cast to stunning
performances that lend even more reality to this bizarre fable."
...Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
"Daring, disturbing, frightening, hypnotic, romantic,
haunting - take your pick... it claims the attention of the
audience - with a story both gritty and otherworldly, an arresting
visual style, an array of flawless supporting actors and one inspired
star turn." ...Cincinnati Enquirer