MRR Review: "The Broken Circle Breakdown"

Photo Credit: Tribeca Film

MRR Review: "The Broken Circle Breakdown"

Rating: Not Rated
Length: 111 minutes
Release Date: November 1, 2013
Directed by: Felix Van Groeningen
Genre: Drama/Music

"The Broken Circle Breakdown" was one of the most highly anticipated films of the year for the small number of people who knew about it. Like many independent films, "The Broken Circle Breakdown" did not benefit from the mass marketing enjoyed by most Hollywood blockbusters, so it relied largely on word of mouth. In spite of the lack of publicity "The Broken Circle Breakdown" received, it was selected from among many movies as the Belgian entry for the coveted award of Best Foreign Language Film at the eighty-sixth annual Academy Awards. Since then, "The Broken Circle Breakdown" has been riding a surging wave of popularity, with big-name movie critics are giving it rave reviews. The film is based on the play by Johan Heldenbergh, who actually stars as Didier, the male lead. The original play is known as "The Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama," but the film has a shortened title. Unlike most movies based on plays, director Felix Van Groeningen does "The Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama" justice as he translates the story to the big screen.

"The Broken Circle Breakdown" is a romance at heart and revolves around the lives of a very different couple and their beloved daughter, who has become seriously ill. The film begins with a country bluegrass group performing an old English hymn, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" The group is made up of Flemish musicians. One of them, the soft-spoken and ruggedly handsome Didier, is an atheist who falls madly in love with a religious tattoo artist named Elise who has tattooed her own body. Elise is portrayed by the talented Veerle Baetens, who won Best Actress in a Narrative Feature Film at the Tribeca Film Festival. Elise returns Didier's passionate feelings and joins his band. Not long after, they get married in spite of their differences, and they soon welcome a little one named Maybelle into the world. Maybelle is the light of the couple's life and is surrounded by loving family and friends who are all eager to help raise the precious little girl.

When Maybelle unexpectedly falls ill, "The Broken Circle Breakdown" takes a dark and realistic turn. The couple's passion for their unusual family is intensified as they realize their child's life is in very real danger. As they struggle to cope with their daughter's declining health and seemingly inevitable death, the film flies back and forth between the past and the present, entwining heartfelt flashbacks with the scenes of the family's terrible new reality. Ultimately, the very different beliefs of Didier and Elise lead to serious conflict, and Didier even takes the stage during one of the band's live performances and confronts the audience with his views on faith and religion. On the other hand, Elise is still clinging to her faith as she tries to understand why this cruel fate has befallen their child. The couple grows apart, seeing each other infrequently at concerts and rehearsals, and their love for one another seems as doomed as their daughter's life.

"The Broken Circle Breakdown" is a heart-wrenching movie that relies on artistic cinematography, imagery, and the raw talents of the actors who portray the characters. Few films deal with such painful topics without becoming unrealistic or campy, and "The Broken Circle Breakdown" certainly sets the bar high for all future films that deal with subject matter as dark as a disintegrating family and a dying child. In spite of the film's heartbreaking story, "The Broken Circle Breakdown" still has plenty of moments of relief in the form of frequent flashbacks of the family before Maybelle's illness. Even though Elise and Didier are going through trials that are absolutely unbearable, they are still trying desperately to keep their relationship alive against all odds.

Fans of foreign films are sure to adore "The Broken Circle Breakdown," which now has English subtitles to make it more accessible for audiences who don't understand Flemish. Fortunately, it has not been dubbed with English voices, a fate that has befallen many foreign films that are otherwise wonderful. "The Broken Circle Breakdown" can truly only be enjoyed in its original language, an emotional tongue that captures the mood of the film just as well as the beautiful imagery and creative cinematography do. However, moviegoers should view "The Broken Circle Breakdown" with the understanding that this movie does not pull punches or soften the multitude of devastating scenes. To tone down this film's darkness would be a tragedy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5