Tag Archives: lars von trier

XL Popcorn – Breaking the Waves

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 658/1007
Title: Breaking the Waves
Director: Lars Von Trier
Year: 1996
Country: Denmark

Where I was unable to connect to Lucía because of a lack of honesty, Breaking the Waves is a somewhat harrowing and yet compulsive watch because of it. If there is one thing that you can not accuse Lars Von Trier of, it’s that his films lack a rich emotional core which is open to any viewer that wants to peer in. As such, many of his films have the blunt honesty of an open emotional wound; never a bad thing if you are able to do this with exceptional performances and a signature look.

The key to Breaking the Waves lies in the first of those two: the performances or, to be honest, the lead performance by Emily Watson asBess. It’s hard to believe that this was only her second role in a feature film. It has to be up there as one of the best performances that has been put onto celluloid and is, for me, the tied-best performance I have seen in a Von Trier film (the other being Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia).

The central premise of Breaking the Waves sounds absurd when written down. A woman living in a strict Calvinist community marries an oil rig worker. She has some mental and attachment issues (to the extent that she holds conversations with God where she plays both roles) which get worse after her new husband suffers an accident and ends up paralysed. You see, in his attempt to try and help her move on he suggests she takes a lover, but she gets it into her head that every time she sleeps with another man God will help cure her husband.

Things then escalate and spiral in a way that Von Trier does very well, something drowned in irony. You see in Breaking the Waves there is no one who does not act in a way that they would consider good (the only exception being a group of unnamed kids and some sailors). The drama and the heartbreak comes from the way that this goodness collides with one another and, subsequently, ends in tragedy where no one is truly guilty.

I am a fan of Von Trier’s work and have been putting watching this for a while because I knew that I had to be in the completely right emotional mindset to take on a new film of his. It saddens me, therefore, that there are no other films of his on the 1001 list for me to watch. Still, I have a lot of his back catalogue (including The Idiots and Antichrist) still to see, so it’s not as if I am left bereft.

XL Popcorn – Riget

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 422/1007Lars3_1310108403_crop_550x408Title: Riget (The Kingdom)
Director: Lars Von Trier and Morten Arnfred
Year: 1994
Country: Denmark

In writing about Riget I have had to take a day or two out to actually take stock.

Let’s start at the beginning. It was a Saturday and we (myself and the partner) were looking at the longest entrants on the 1001 list. Two of the listings in this book are for mini-series which have either been re-cut or re-classafied as feature films. The longest of the entire list, Dekalog, will be done at a different time since it is 10 hour-long short films. Instead we thought we would do an episode of Riget and make our way through it, but we were so transfixed that we ended up spending the rest of the day watching the entire mini-series.

The setting of Riget is Copenhagen’s main hospital where supernatural goings on are starting. During the 5 hours the amount of supernatural occurrences ramp up, however this was a TV show and so there are many cycles to this. The opening always starts in the morning with new arrival (the grumpy, xenophobic and, mildly, disgraced) Stig Hemler, a consultant neurosurgeon from over the bridge in Sweden, removing his hubcaps and making some complaint to facilities. After this, there is always the morning meeting and so on. Establishing such a rigid routine that you come to expect means that it’s disruption in later episodes are good signifiers of something being amiss.

The way that Riget deals with the idea of ghosts so sparingly, with all goings on being confined to night time. It is also the case that the only people who seem to be in the know of what is going on are the two dishwashers with Down’s Syndrome who act as a Grecian chorus (which is just very strange).

There is not much you can say about this without giving the game away. One of the reason Riget works so well is because of the sheer number of left-turns that it takes. Just when you expect one thing to happen to a character they make a series of decisions which, although organic, are unexpected. A safer example includes that of a character to visit Haiti to procure some voodoo zombie poison… strange yes.

At times it is creepy. At others it is bizarre. Most of all it remains engaging that the only reason we knew that we had reached the end of the current part was by the appearance of creator Lars Von Trier as he talked to the audience over the credits, looking so young being that this was 20 years ago now. I have watched recent films (including Out Of Africa) which felt so much longer than this, this is how good Riget is. It does mean that I now find it even harder to decide my favourite Von Trier since I have to rank this alongside Dancer In The DarkMelancholia and Dogville.

In the end, this feels like a first series of a trilogy. It was pretty much meant to be with Riget II coming out three years later and Riget III never materialised as too many of the actors had died or retired. We will be watching Riget II very soon both because of the sheer number of unanswered questions in the final episode and because Riget was one of the best things I have seen in a long time.