Tag Archives: emily watson

Breaking the Waves – Review

19 May

Every time I watch a movie by Lars von Trier, I begin to hope that maybe it will help me understand him more. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one ever truly will. Enough about that, however. Today I’m going to be looking at a very important movie in von Trier’s career, his 1996 film Breaking the Waves. If it wasn’t for this movie, Lars von Trier would not be the internationally acclaimed film maker that he is today and it also allowed him to explore with techniques that he never worked with before. All that aside, while Dogville is my favorite of his movie, Breaking the Waves might be his masterpiece.

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In a small town in rural Scotland, Bess McNeil (Emily Watson), a mentally ill woman dedicated to her strict church, meets and falls in love with Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), an oilman who works on a rig off the coast. The two quickly get married and spend their first days together in a state of marital bliss. Eventually, Jan has to go back to the oil rig which leaves Bess devastated. She prays that God will send Jan back to her, and her prayers seem to be answered with the news that he’s coming home. What Bess didn’t know was the accident Jan was in the middle of the left him paralyzed from the neck down. Bess feels an overwhelming amount of guilt for this, thinking this is God’s way of punishing her, and will do anything to help Jan feel better. When Jan makes the request that she go out and find a man to sleep with so he can feel that connection again, Bess takes the request to the extreme which has extreme consequences with the people of the village.

It’s interesting to note that a year before this movie was made, Lars von Trier and fellow director Thomas Vinterberg created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto.” What this was was a set of rules created by von Trier and Vinterberg that they believed would create the purest and most authentic film possible. There are strange rules like the film has to be in color, shot on a hand held camera, and the banning of using any type of filters. In my opinion, it’s all a bit much. Breaking the Waves can’t technically be called a Dogme 95 film because it does break rules about sound and the director being credited, but the movie is shot on a hand held camera with what seems to be mostly natural lighting. This was a huge stylistic change for von Trier, especially since his earlier movies like Element of Crime and Europa are so heavily stylized. This is more really the only way a story like Breaking the Waves can be told, so it was a bold shift in style that should be respected.

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When it comes to love stories in film, it’s very easy to mess it up. If you look at most romantic comedies, there’s really nothing to the love that you see in the movies. It’s the most superficial type of romance you can see. What I love about film makers like Lars von Trier, Woody Allen, and the Coen Brothers is that they all seem very confused by love while also still being a part of it. That is what keeps the love story in Breaking the Waves feel so authentic and ultimately tragic. This film is absolutely devastating, but the relationship between Bess and Jan is very powerful and beautiful in a weird kind of way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a very unique movie with characters and situations and relationships that feel very fresh and real, sometimes disturbingly so.

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without dedicating a chunk of this review to Emily Watson. Lars von Trier’s movies aren’t known for their stellar performances, sometimes due to his awkward writing, but Emily Watson kills it in this movie. Bess is probably the most fully realized of all his characters and Watson taps into something deep here. I haven’t really seen Emily Watson in too much stuff so I never really had an opinion on her. After seeing her in Breaking the Waves, however, I now see just how powerful an actor she really is. Bess is a wonderful character and Watson plays her absolutely perfect.

Breaking the Waves is a truly magnificent movie that is both hard to watch and impossible to look away from. Lars von Trier has become one of my favorite film makers for a reason, and the reason is that he isn’t afraid to tackle new or taboo subjects using a variety of techniques. This is one of his more down to earth movies, but it still has that other worldly von Trierian quality that we’ve all come to expect with his movies. Simply put, Breaking the Waves is his masterpiece.

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Synecdoche, New York – Review

1 Apr

Here’s a movie that the late, great Roger Ebert called the best film of the decade back when it was released in 2008. This is Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. Before this film, Kaufman established himself as one of the greatest modern day story tellers with his screenplays of Being John MalkovichAdaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He’s a writer like no other, and the puzzles that his movies present are proof. That being said, Synecdoche, New York comes off as his most personal and most challenging work yet.

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Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater director working in New York City. His most recent play is a success, but life at home couldn’t be worse. First, Cotard begins to suspect that he’s suffering from a degenerative disorder that’s practically shutting his body down. To make matters worse, his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) takes their daughter to Berlin for an art show, but never return. To cope with this, Cotard begins working on a personal and extremely realistic piece of theater by constructing a replica of New York City inside a giant warehouse with thousands of actors playing real life people acting out situations that have happened in day to day life. As the line of Cotard’s fiction and Cotard’s reality begin to become one, he begins to lose all track of time and control on his other relationships with multiple women in his theater group.

Anyone who is familiar with Charlie Kaufman’s work knows that he is not afraid to put our minds through a cinematic blender. Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich subscribed to a set of rules that seem only to exist in Kaufman’s mind. Things don’t have to make sense or follow any linear design as long as his story is there and he gets across what he’s trying to say, even though you may not get everything the first time through. You can’t really say that with most directors, but Kaufman makes it work. Unlike the other movies I’ve mentioned, the story in Synecdoche, New York completely goes off the rails leaving time and space to be a minor footnote to a work that’s much more important.

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Aside from being mind boggling in story, Synecdoche, New York also succeeded at boggling my emotions. This is one hell of a heavy movies despite how completely off the walls it is. There’s so much stuff to find hilarious in this movie, for example doctors who do their best to give their patients as little insight as possible, a psychiatrist who doesn’t seem to be even listening, and a character who buys and lives in a house that’s perpetually on fire. However, and this is a huge however, once the movie starts getting into its later scenes and I began to realize more and more the message of the movie, I found myself getting hopelessly sad in a way that a movie hasn’t done to me in a while. So, yes, the movie is really funny in many scenes, but it’s overall quite upsetting, but upon closer inspection it may give you a surge of great joy.

With the huge emotional response and the fact that this world Kaufman has made exists outside the realm of conventional rules, it’s safe to say that watching this movie just once is a bad idea. Going back and thinking about this movie more has made me realize all of the little clues, themes, and symbols that I completely failed to notice the first time through. It’ll almost be like watching the movie for the first time all over again now that I know how much it really plays with your mind. The only complaint I can possibly have about this movie is that it seemed to go on and on. For a movie as strange as this with all of its complicated storytelling, it is a little bit long and I felt it necessary to take a little break in the middle.

Going back to what Roger Ebert said about Synecdoche, New York being the best movie of the decade, I wouldn’t go that far in my opinion. It is still a truly remarkable movie that feels very personal to Kaufman, but also works great as a movie that exists to figure out the meaning of the story and piece together all the clues that seem to be subliminally sneaked into the movie. Still, this movie is not for everyone. It’s so complex and difficult that the casual movie watcher may not be interested. For the nice audience that it is directed too, however, this is a fascinating and original film that fits perfectly into Charlie Kaufman’s filmography and succeeds especially as his debut film.

The Proposition – Review

22 Aug

Normally when I think of westerns, I think of the old west towns of America where cowboys and Indians are forever locked in a feud over land and food. Not once have I seen a western film take place in the outback of Australia, where British settlers are at war with Aboriginals. The Proposition offers a brutal glimpse of early life on the outback which can be compared to the lawless American wilderness.

 

Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey Burns (Richard Wilson) have had a good run as outlaws until one day the law catches up to them. Now in custody, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers Charlie a proposition: either he finds and kills his older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), who is considered a monster, or Mikey will hang until dead on Christmas day. While Charlie is hunting for his maniacal older brother, Captain Stanley faces the growing challenge of protecting his wife, Martha (Emily Watson) from the violence that he faces everyday.

First of all, this was the best looking western I have ever seen. While Dead Man looks beautiful with its black and white scheme, The Proposition has breathtaking scenes of the outback at sunset, featuring stunning silhouette shots and a sky that ranges from orange to a purple tint. It is absolutely stunning. On the flip side, the morning scenes are barren and filled with flies, which almost become a character themselves. It’s a perfect combination of beauty and disgust.

 

Other than how beautiful this movie looks, the relentless brutality is jarring, but never excessive or overbearing. There are scenes of incredible violence that is going to stay with the viewer long after it is over. I mean it when I say that this isn’t a movie for the feint of heart or the weak of stomach.

The real scene stealer is the soundtrack. Singer/songwriter and author of this fine movie, Nick Cave, did the music along with Warren Ellis. What they created is a haunting and almost spiritual score that accentuates the horror of the lawless outback and the challenge of survival. The movie starts with a beautiful song sung by a little girl with actual images of death and destruction from the time period. From there, the music gets darker and sadder along with the story.

 

Finally, the screenplay itself. While it is full of hate and anger, there are moments where all violence and death are forgotten with quiet moments between brothers or husband and wife. These moments are perfect capos to the intensity. With strange editing techniques, the viewer can be sent from a scene of violence to silence in a jarring millisecond. This is storytelling at its best.

If you haven’t already guessed, I loved The Proposition. The brutality, the silence, and the way beauty and ugly became one. This is a western that packs a strong punch to the jugular that will likely bruise and swell with appreciation. This isn’t just a great western, it just might be my favorite western.