EW Staff
August 23, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Breaking the Waves
Director Lars von Trier used a handheld camera to shoot the story of a paralyzed newlywed who urges his virginal bride to take a lover. Newcomer Emily Watson, 29, who’s winning raves as the wife, began with London’s Royal Shakespeare Company, ”but,” she says, ”that was, like, wenching and spear-carrying.” Winner of Cannes’ Grand Jury Prize. (Nov. 15)

Combine heaving bosoms, witty banter, and a dash of Dangerous Liaisons, and you have this drama about courtiers to King Louis XVI whose lives depend on their acid tongues. ”It’s about how to be free without committing yourself to do bad things,” says costar Judith Godreche. Happily, that’s a lesson the characters learn only by committing one sin after another. (Nov. 27)

Unhook the Stars
Playing a widow who reinvents her life while befriending a troubled neighbor (Marisa Tomei), Gena Rowlands had an unusually sympathetic director: her 37-year-old son, actor Nick Cassavetes. ”On the set, we completely separate the mother-son relationship,” he insists. The only awkward moment: ”when she spanked me because I didn’t do something right.” (Nov. 1)

Writer-director-actor Billy Bob Thornton tells the story of a killer who leaves an asylum and becomes entangled with a mother and son, her abusive beau (Dwight Yoakam), and a family friend (John Ritter). It’s ”like Tender Mercies with a psychotic edge,” Thornton says. ”I guess you could call it an art picture.” (Nov. 22)

The Eighth Day
On the seventh day, God rested. On the eighth, he created Georges, the angelic runaway with Down syndrome at the hub of Jaco Van Dormael’s tale of a young man (Pascal Duquenne) who helps his suit-and-tie buddy, Harry (Daniel Auteuil), stop and smell les fleurs. Oh, and on the ninth day, Duquenne and Auteuil shared Cannes’ Best Actor Prize. (Nov. 1)

Larger Than Life
The Elephant Man 2 is what cast and crew dubbed Howard Franklin’s comedy about a motivational speaker (Bill Murray) whose dad bequeaths him a pachyderm. ”It’s a coming-of-age story,” says Franklin. But don’t forget the elephant jokes: Jack’s attempt to cash in on his mammoth endowment leads to a cross-country trip and some memorable synchronized swimming. ”Bill,” says Franklin, ”has found his favorite costar.” (Nov. 22)

Tilda Swinton (Orlando) and Amy Madigan play sisters confronting their differences in Female Perversions. Seattle’s grunge scene gets the once-over in the documentary Hype!, featuring a never-seen performance of ”Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. The 1986 Tony winner I’m Not Rappaport hits the big screen, with Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis as the bickering buddies. Documentarian Greta Schiller delves into the ’20s community of female artists and writers in Paris Was A Woman. On her first day of work, a pregnant French hotel room attendant wonders how long she can remain A Single Girl. And Hulk Hogan plays a billionaire with a Kris Kringle Komplex in Santa With Muscles.

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