Denmark, Sweden, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland


Set in the early 1970s amid a small tightly knit community on the remote north coast of Scotland, BREAKING THE WAVES tells the story of Bess, a young, naive and innocent girl and her profound experience of love. Bess, who has lived her life protected by her family: her mother, grandfather and recently widowed sister-in-law, Dodo; within the confined world of strict Calvinism, falls in love with Jan, a stalwart oil-rig worker and man-of-the-world. Jan in turn is captivated by Bess's innocence and the purity she radiates. Despite local opposition the couple marry.

For a brief and happy time the newly-weds live an intense love life but when Jan has to return to the oil-rig, Bess is distraught. The long nightly phone calls charged with emotion fail to quell her longing and she prays fervently to God for Jan's return.

The return is sooner than expected - an explosion on the rig seriously injures Jan and suffering potentially fatal brain damage and total paralysis he is flown back to hospital.

In this state he realises that he will never be Bess' lover again. He finds it unbearable to think of Bess being deprived of sensual passion again. Despite her misgivings, he persuades her to go out and enjoy herself; to take a lover. In order to convince her and to make sure that she does this, he suggests that it will help with his recovery if she returns to his bedside to describe the events, encouraging her to detail the sex. But Bess, in her naivety, believes that Jan's health can be affected by her conduct and in her innocence she spirals into a world she does not understand.

Denied the support of her community Bess is abandoned and exiled. However, believing that her actions are helping her beloved Jan, she calls on her strength of conviction and ignores her own safety in the hope that a miracle will give Jan back to her. She plunges into the ultimate sacrifice, willing to risk her life for her husband and their love for one another.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Lars von Trier

Written by: Lars von Trier

Produced by: Peter Aalbaek Jense, Vibeke Windelov

Cast: Emily Watson (Bess), Stellan Skarsgård (Jan), Katrin Cartlidge (Dodo), Jean-Marc Barr (Terry), Adrian Rawlins (Dr Richardson), Udo Kier (the man on the trawler), Jonathan Hackett (the minister)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Critic’s Award – Prix Fipresci 1996
  • European Actress 1996
  • European Film 1996
  • Feature Film Selection 1996