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BIMI in collaboration with Birkbeck Gender & Sexuality Group (BiGS) presents: Breaking the Waves

Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square

Breaking The Waves

Lars von Trier, Denmark, 1996, 159 minutes


Breaking the Waves is a film about sacrifice.It's set in Scotland in the 1970s. Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) belongs to the Free Scottish Presbyterian Church. She marries Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgård).Jan's a non-believer, but the film is compellingly good at communicating the sacred (though never solemn) joy that Bess finds in their sexual passion.

With Jan away on the rig, Bess prays for his return. There's an accident, and Jan is flown home, paralysed. Bess feels guilt at the way her prayer has been answered. Jan is impotent and bed-ridden. He urges her to raise his spirits by taking a lover, and telling him of her continuing sex life. Initially appalled, Bess comes to accept that her devotion to Jan requires this sacrifice. Sexuality goes from being a celebration of love to being the instrument of an increasingly brutal self-sacrifice for the sake of love.

The previous year von Trier had contributed to Dogme 95's manifesto for films of a stripped and trickless realism. Breaking the Waves reflects many of Dogme's tenets, but it also projects a world of stark ritualism presided over by less than forgiving gods.

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BiGS provides a forum for innovative interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange in gender and sexuality studies. It brings together scholars working in the arts and humanities and the social sciences and encourages dialogue with practitioners in the creative industries as well as with non-academic constituencies.

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