When I first started watching films in the late 80s and early 90s, as I have said before Halliwell’s Film Guide led me through the maze of films from the past, so for a while I relied on Empire magazine to guide me through the current releases, but then it the mid 90s, it seemed to loose it’s way and so I started to read Geoff Brown in The Times on Thursday and Derek Malcolm in The Guardian on Friday, I always watched Barry Norman.
Chris has a theory, which I agree with, that critics see so much rubbish that when they see something good they tend to over react to it and this may be true to this film. Geoff Brown went so over the top with his review in October 1996 that he virtually said it was one of the best films ever made and easily the film of the year, I couldn’t wait to see it, but it came and went very quickly and I didn’t get to see it at the cinema. It then got an Oscar nomination for Emily Watson, so I expected a re-release, I was disappointed, so had to wait for it’s release on video and I seem to remember paying about £16 for it (perhaps the most expensive VHS I ever bought), it was quite a long film (2 hours 40 mins), so when I settled down to it, I didn’t know what to expect.
It tells the story of Bess who lives in a remote part of Scotland during the 1970s. She marries a Oil rigger, who has an accident, she then humiliates herself to try and save him.
Emily Watson gives an extraordinary performance, in her film debut, of a naïve girl, but it is going to divide audiences as Bess thinks she has tested her faith. Von Trier seems to always want to test his audience with what has come since, after this he directed “The Idiots”, a film about a group of friends who pretend to be physically retarded, this is utter rubbish, but he proved to be back on track with “Dancer In The Dark” with a memorable debut performance from the Icelandic singer, Bjork, he then moved to America and made the anti-American “Dogville” with Nicole Kidman. All these films have a character that at first is invited into a small community, but over time this changes and nothing is what is seems.
As with the best of Von Trier’s work, it is unforgettable and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. John Walker picked it as the 39th greatest film of all time (only GoodFellas and Toy Story from the 90s came higher).
UK Opening Oct 1996
DF Viewing 04/10/1997 on VHS