Breaking the Waves (1996)

A searing indictment of every bedrock world institution imaginable

Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, Breaking the Waves is arguably Lars Von Trier's most accessible and finest film. Structured as a doctrinal tragedy and featuring a stunning performance from Emily Watson, Waves is a searing indictment of, well, virtually every bedrock world institution imaginable: religion, medicine, family, labor, marriage, prostitution, psychology and -- last but not least -- whether or not giving an old fellow a hand job in the back of a public bus can be considered a credible sexual liaison.

The only institutions Breaking the Waves leaves intact are true love and friendship -- tangible, emotional institutions. That it accomplishes running its ambitious emotional gamut without coming off as the least bit showy is testament to Waves' riveting brilliance. It's far from a pleasant film to watch, but remains a necessary one for anyone who requires a refresher course in cinema's ability to drill the nuances of humanity like no other artistic medium.

But back to Watson: Notice how she doesn't whore herself out in borderline mentally retarded material such as this weekend's Must Love Dogs. Phyllis doesn't even have to see this You've Got Mail knockoff to know it sucks. Which would be harmless if its co-stars were, say, Mena Suvari and James Van Der Beek. In that instance, one could argue that it's just good to see the Beek from Dawson's Creek working again.

But hold on. Must Love Dogs actually features two pretty capable actors -- Diane Lane and John Cusack -- in the lead roles. So if you want to know why this is perhaps the worst summer of film since pictures turned talkie, look no further than Lane and Cusack's greedy prostitution of their craft. Every piece of shit that they and their like agree to sleepwalk through virtually assures that studios will make fewer movies starring true thespians like the great Watson. -- Mike Seely

Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it. Editor's note: Because she was born when Coolidge was president and thinks of the 1970s as "modern," Blind Phyllis reviewed the original Bad News Bears last week instead of the Billy Bob Thornton-Richard Linklater update. Unbeknownst to us, Phyllis snuck out of her Creve Coeur abode, boarded a bus with other fun-lovin' seniors and caught the flick at Kiener Plaza instead of Kenrick Plaza (those damn plazas). We regret the error; she does not.

 
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