Ryan Gilbey on film

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The Independent Online
The young actress Emily Watson sometimes looks startled or terrified, and sometimes paralysed with glee. She has twinkling button-eyes pressed into her face like currants in dough, and a nose that seems in a permanent state of wrinkle-ment. She's a newcomer, and I think it shows in her performance in Breaking the Waves, the extraordinary new film from Lars Von Trier, director of The Kingdom. That's not to say that there's anything unconvincing or slack about her. Just that she seems untouched. By what? By technique or contrivance. By anything. That's fitting. She plays Bess, a woman on the Isle of Skye who falls quickly and passionately in love with an oil- rig worker. Their marriage (right) - of which the repressed, buttoned- to-the-collar elders disapprove - is a rollercoaster ride on a broken track. After a period of elation, tragedy strikes. The picture changes gear.

It's not as though Watson, as an actress, needs to suffer in order to convince, as you might argue that an overly-mechanised actress like Meryl Streep does; Watson doesn't use the last, gruelling two hours (of this three-hour picture) to prove herself as an actress. She does that in the first few minutes, where there seems to be nothing separating her from us - not the screen, the distance between us and her image, the illusion of cinema. There are literally no bounds to what she can do. Bess hurls herself into dangerous territory, and Watson does the same as an actress. I don't know if she could play any other roles - Bess feels like a full- stop as well as a bold exclamation mark. If you can get to Edinburgh to see Breaking the Waves tonight (or next Friday), do so. Otherwise, the movie opens here in October. It, and Watson, leave you feeling sore, wounded, invigorated, and irrevocably altered.

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