Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Elise is a singer and tattoo shop owner; Didier is a banjo player in a bluegrass band. After a chance encounter, the two become instantly enamored. As they discover a shared passion for all things American culture, especially its wonderful music, they plunge headlong into a whirlwind affair of passionate affection. However their enduring romance is put to the test when misfortune and hardship strikes their beautiful new family.
As the credits began rolling I turned to my alluring editor to see if she was as smitten with this exceptional film from Belgium as I obviously was. She simply looked at me and said, “Wow, good luck trying to write about that one.” Her comment caught me off guard for a moment until she then put it in context of how difficult it was going to be to share thoughts and observations without revealing too much of the story. Considering I’ve now spent four days working on this one review, she has no idea how prophetic her one little comment has turned out to be. (By the way, for those curious, yes she also was taken by this poignant film)
Equal parts cinematic magic and emotional roller coaster, discovering movies like The Broken Circle Breakdown is why so many of us love this splendid hobby. With a similar feel to the 2011 Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams film Blue Valentine, the disjointed, nonlinear narrative style shows us glimpses of what is to be, then goes back in time to show us how they got there. While I can see some becoming frustrated with the filmmaker’s choice of this unique storytelling technique, I personally found it kept me much more attentive to the happenings on screen.
The two lead performers, Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh, are simply revelations. The sizzling and sensual attraction these two exhibit is palpable. While other times, their roles require each to become emotionally naked, displaying an inner anguish that few can even imagine let alone portray. If forced to choose a favorite between the two, I’d have to lean toward Baetens. Her extraordinarily eccentric combination of vividly displayed tattoos with traditional, conservative, southern-styled dresses is such a fascinating and sensuous juxtaposition for the eyes. I fully expect after Broken Circle Breakdown, that Baetens, who deservedly won the European Film Awards 2013 Best Actress for her performance, will quickly become a rising star.
The film’s soundtrack is a heralded attraction unto itself and is one of the finest I’ve experienced in quite some time. Right from the first spine-tingling moments we get to experience the harmonious intertwining of Baetens and Heldenbergh’s voices, the chemistry these two show on stage together could make most professional musicians jealous. Director Felix van Groeningen’s use of these impeccably performed bluegrass standards superbly accentuates the exhilarating highs while helping pull the viewer back from the distressing lows the film portrays. Though the dialogue is in Flemish, all the music performed was sung by the actors in English, offering a bit of respite from the film’s subtitles, minimizing some of that dreaded “foreign film feel.” While I’m pleased to see that The Broken Circle Breakdown received an 2014 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, I must admit I’m a bit shocked to see that its first-class soundtrack was ignored.
Getting the chance to write my thoughts about an amazing and relatively unknown film like The Broken Circle Breakdown is the most enjoyable part of this website. This is storytelling of the finest quality. Just pick an adjective: enthralling, moving, painful, inspiring, heartbreaking, cathartic. This movie is any and all the above. While there is no getting around that The Broken Circle Breakdown will most likely leave you emotionally drained, it is well worth it to experience such a gifted piece of cinema.-JL