Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Wavesis an astonishingly well-achieved and precise piece of cinema but it’s quite bleak in its outlook and a painful film to watch.

Breaking the Waves
Sydney Mancasola as Bess in Breaking the Waves . Photo © James Glossop

Of course, there’s compassion and beauty in it, but it’s pretty bitter about the power of its central character. For those reasons I was worried about directing an operatic version, but then I listened to the score. Missy. Mazzoli has brought an extraordinary compassion to it – her own compassion as an artist – which turns the film inside out.

The story is set in a remote community on an island where there is a kind of repressive, post-Calvinist religion. It’s a love story between Bess, a young woman who is protected by this society – she’s sort of loved by it but also controlled by it – and who falls in love with Jan, a man who’s an outsider and works on an oil rig. After he goes back to work, she suffers acute separation anxiety and hallucinates a destructive dialogue with the god of her religious mentors. When Jan...