Battle in Heaven opens with a deliberate, calculated provocation. It seems to be a very explicit fantasy sequence involving a young and rather beautiful woman performing an iconic sex act on an obviously less attractive older man. To be blunt, he’s fat, and blank-faced. The camera spins around the actors, coming to rest in the man’s place so we see this woman from his point of view — the audience is placed in the position of being on the receiving end of this sexual act, an act which seems to be not of love, exactly, but of kindness.
Breaking the Waves, a powerful fable from Danish director Lars von Trier (Zentropa, The Kingdom) is as daunting as it is satisfying. The satisfaction comes from von Trier’s audacious and ever-deepening sense for filmmaking — Breaking the Waves is his most ambitious and skillfully drawn narrative so far, and it offers the pleasure of undertaking an uncertain journey, unsure of where it might all end. That’s also what’s daunting. Breaking the Waves is epic in scope, careering wildly from warm and fleshy love story to grim tragedy to something else entirely over the course of its 158 minutes. It’s a film that demands your rapt attention bit by bit, plumbing ever-deeper corners of the soul and plunging at one point into the abyss. Finally, once it’s over, it will return day by day to haunt its audiences. This is seriously nervy filmmaking.