Does anyone get better performances out of women than Lars von Trier? Emily Watson, like Bjork in "Dancer in the Dark", gives the most heartbreaking performance of her career.
Lars von Trier has a way of ratcheting up tension and drama to the point of insufferable cruelty, and just when you think his characters can endure no more, he pushes them over an abyss.
An excerpt from the IMDB mini biography on von Trier: "Breaking the Waves is perhaps one of the worlds most emotional motion pictures..." This is no understatement. von Trier delivers, the film never misses an opportunity to break your heart.
It's serves as a study in screenwriting. It examines the impact of the heroine's relationship's with her husband, best friend, mother, church, community and her deity. His protagonists suffer hard fates and their convictions are "screwed to the sticking post". No one's beliefs in this film are unchallenged. There's plenty for every actor to work with, even the background.
Emily Watson as Bess McNeill never waivers from her beliefs and in the end she remains true to her character. This is what makes the film so sad and rewarding. This is why the film works.
Four stars, nay, five. Goes in the top 10 (I probably have two dozen films in my top 10 now.)