Breaking the Waves

Breaking the Waves (1996) opens with a wedding, which is never good news for those inhabiting a fictional world. The primary characteristic of old comedy, as a binary of tragedy, was the happy nuptial finish, and canny writers have long been inverting that trope. When a novel or film opens with a wedding, life takes a grim turn after the confetti falls, and the halcyon promise of the post-altar ever-after is exposed as illusion. Individuals are crushed, sometimes by the very institution they celebrate, and sometimes by larger forces. In Breaking the Waves, the main characters get it from both sides. Von Trier subverts comedic tradition, allowing his newlyweds a week of milk and honey before reality shatters the idyll of Bess, a naïve Highland girl, and Jan, a Swede who works on an oil rig in the North Sea. If the couple’s only fault is loving each other too much, accident and community exploit that fault, which generates a unique anti-comedy that not only holds up, a dozen years on, but has gained an arcane power over time.

Full retrospective and comments below the fold.

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