An Experiment in Handheld CinemaScope

Cinematographer Robby Müller, who passed away earlier this month at the age of seventy-eight, was renowned for his sensitive use of natural light and the economy of his striking compositions. When he joined forces with Lars von Trier for 1996’s Breaking the Waves, the result was some of the most subtly experimental work of the DP’s career. Combining a handheld camera with an immersive CinemaScope frame, Müller captures an emotionally turbulent fable about a devout woman (an Oscar-nominated Emily Watson) whose recently paralyzed husband (Stellan Skarsgård) urges her to take new lovers.

In the latest installment of Observations on Film Art, now streaming on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, Professor Jeff Smith trains his focus on the constantly evolving visual approach of the film, observing how von Trier and Müller slyly deploy stylized techniques like long takes and rapid pans that complicate the naturalism that dominates the film. Check out the above clip from the episode—in which Smith contrasts the meticulous compositions of von Trier’s third feature, 1991’s Europa, with the fly-on-the-wall look of Breaking the Waves, his fourth—then click over to the Channel to take in the whole ten-minute dose of film school, presented alongside our packed edition of the controversial melodrama.

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