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Breaking the Waves (1996)

R | | Drama | 13 November 1996 (USA)
2:11 | Trailer

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Oilman Jan is paralyzed in an accident. His wife, who prayed for his return, feels guilty; even more, when Jan urges her to have sex with another.


(as Lars Von Trier)


(as Lars Von Trier), (co-writer)
4,566 ( 52)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 42 wins & 27 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jonathan Hackett ...
Sandra Voe ...
Sadistic Sailor
Phil McCall ...
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Coroner (as Finley Welsh)


Drama set in a repressed, deeply religious community in the north of Scotland, where a naive young woman named Bess McNeil meets and falls in love with Danish oil-rig worker Jan. Bess and Jan are deeply in love but, when Jan returns to his rig, Bess prays to God that he returns for good. Jan does return, his neck broken in an accident aboard the rig. Because of his condition, Jan and Bess are now unable to enjoy a sexual relationship and Jan urges Bess to take another lover and tell him the details. As Bess becomes more and more deviant in her sexual behavior, the more she comes to believe that her actions are guided by God and are helping Jan recover. Written by Jonathan Broxton <j.w.broxton@sheffield.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Love is a mighty power.



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong graphic sexuality, nudity, language and some violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:




Release Date:

13 November 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Contra viento y marea  »

Filming Locations:



Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$110,741, 22 November 1996

Gross USA:

$4,040,691, 4 May 1997
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

, ,  »
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Technical Specs


| (director's cut)

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


Was #3 on Gene Siskel 's list of the Best Films of 1996. See more »


(at around 7 mins) When Bess is in bed with her sister-in-law, the blanket is on, then off, Bess' shoulder. See more »


[first lines]
Bess McNeill: His name is Jan.
The Minister: I do not know him.
Bess McNeill: [coyly] He's from the lake.
The Minister: You know we do not favor matrimony with outsiders.
An Elder: Can you even tell us what matrimony is?
Bess McNeill: It's when two people are joined in God.
See more »


Featured in I Lars von Triers rige (1999) See more »


All the Way from Memphis
Written by Ian Hunter
Performed by Mott the Hoople
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

My brief review of the film
23 November 2005 | by See all my reviews

A film about love, faith, religion and many other things, it is a draining experience but yet fascinating to watch, with superb acting and an intriguing main character. It is surprising how gripping the film is, as it is difficult to watch, not just because of the subject matter, but also because of its style. Made by the conventions of Dogme '95, the film has many extreme close-ups, generally shaky camera-work and errors in continuity for editing and audio levels, all of which is supposed to amount to a film that looks and feels more realistic. With this film though, the quality of the acting and writing provide enough realism alone, and therefore the style serves no purpose other than to make the film more difficult to digest. It is an incredibly long film, and while this is not too much of a problem, the chapter markers are noticeably long without much reason either. Still, the film comes through despite its detracting bits. Watson, in her first film performance, is excellent, and Cartlidge provides great support. This is not an easy film to watch and like, but it is easy to admire what is done well in the film.

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