Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: The Broken Circle Breakdown

Tragedy strikes a musical couple, putting their relationship at risk in Belgium's foreign-language Oscar entry.

Nov 1, 2013

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1388738-Broken_Circle_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Like the characters it portrays, The Broken Circle Breakdown is a heartfelt but sloppy and overheated mess. Moving at times, but a mess nonetheless. A hit on the festival circuit, the movie will find a niche in theatres with younger viewers who may not recognize old wine in new bottles.

The screenplay by director Felix van Groeningen and Carl Joos is based on a theatrical piece co-written and starring Johan Heldenbergh. In the movie Heldenbergh plays Didier, a monomaniacal roots-music freak with thick hair, bad teeth, and no apparent sense of humor. A singer and banjo player in a bluegrass band, he falls in love with Elise (Veerle Baetens), a slinky tattoo-parlor artist who inks her lovers' names over her body.

Elise moves into a farmhouse Didier is renovating and joins his band. They have a daughter, Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), who cramps their freewheeling ways before changing their lives completely when she falls ill. Elise and Didier cope in different ways, Elise by turning to drugs and Didier by ranting onstage against President George W. Bush's stem-cell policies.

The screenplay, which arbitrarily cuts back and forth in time, reveals most of the story early on in the movie. Giving away the plot lets van Groeningen ignore the nuts and bolts of storytelling, like why Didier and Elise fall in love, to focus on grandstanding scenes like fights, tantrums, sex and drunken binges. His strategy is to provoke emotional outbursts by whatever means are at hand: cancer, drug overdoses, even the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Van Groeningen is not one for restraint or understatement, which is why you'll find three prolonged sex scenes in The Broken Circle Breakdown, as well as not one but two death songs. Some of his choices are jarring, even offensive, like cutting from Maybelle's first steps to shots of the burning World Trade Center towers. And there's a fuzzy logic to the movie that's more troubling than its watered-down bluegrass and trendy narrative tricks.

Are Didier's feelings more authentic because he yells them? Are viewers supposed to care for Didier and Elise because bad things happen to them? Do parents love a child more if it's going to die?

The two leads throw themselves into their roles, singing and dancing with abandon (their instruments are dubbed). Heldenbergh remains a grating presence throughout, but maybe that's the point. Baetens is much more accomplished in front of the camera, able to embrace contradictory motives without making Elise seem cruel or simply nuts.

Traditionalists may have some trouble with the music in the movie. Didier name-checks bluegrass icons like Bill Monroe and J.D. Crowe, but given the chance performs mainstream country pop like "If I Needed You" or "Cowboy Man" instead. And for a genre built around virtuosity, the pickers in his band are essentially anonymous.


Film Review: The Broken Circle Breakdown

Tragedy strikes a musical couple, putting their relationship at risk in Belgium's foreign-language Oscar entry.

Nov 1, 2013

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1388738-Broken_Circle_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Like the characters it portrays, The Broken Circle Breakdown is a heartfelt but sloppy and overheated mess. Moving at times, but a mess nonetheless. A hit on the festival circuit, the movie will find a niche in theatres with younger viewers who may not recognize old wine in new bottles.

The screenplay by director Felix van Groeningen and Carl Joos is based on a theatrical piece co-written and starring Johan Heldenbergh. In the movie Heldenbergh plays Didier, a monomaniacal roots-music freak with thick hair, bad teeth, and no apparent sense of humor. A singer and banjo player in a bluegrass band, he falls in love with Elise (Veerle Baetens), a slinky tattoo-parlor artist who inks her lovers' names over her body.

Elise moves into a farmhouse Didier is renovating and joins his band. They have a daughter, Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), who cramps their freewheeling ways before changing their lives completely when she falls ill. Elise and Didier cope in different ways, Elise by turning to drugs and Didier by ranting onstage against President George W. Bush's stem-cell policies.

The screenplay, which arbitrarily cuts back and forth in time, reveals most of the story early on in the movie. Giving away the plot lets van Groeningen ignore the nuts and bolts of storytelling, like why Didier and Elise fall in love, to focus on grandstanding scenes like fights, tantrums, sex and drunken binges. His strategy is to provoke emotional outbursts by whatever means are at hand: cancer, drug overdoses, even the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Van Groeningen is not one for restraint or understatement, which is why you'll find three prolonged sex scenes in The Broken Circle Breakdown, as well as not one but two death songs. Some of his choices are jarring, even offensive, like cutting from Maybelle's first steps to shots of the burning World Trade Center towers. And there's a fuzzy logic to the movie that's more troubling than its watered-down bluegrass and trendy narrative tricks.

Are Didier's feelings more authentic because he yells them? Are viewers supposed to care for Didier and Elise because bad things happen to them? Do parents love a child more if it's going to die?

The two leads throw themselves into their roles, singing and dancing with abandon (their instruments are dubbed). Heldenbergh remains a grating presence throughout, but maybe that's the point. Baetens is much more accomplished in front of the camera, able to embrace contradictory motives without making Elise seem cruel or simply nuts.

Traditionalists may have some trouble with the music in the movie. Didier name-checks bluegrass icons like Bill Monroe and J.D. Crowe, but given the chance performs mainstream country pop like "If I Needed You" or "Cowboy Man" instead. And for a genre built around virtuosity, the pickers in his band are essentially anonymous.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

PK
Film Review: PK

An alien trying to return home tangles with religious authorities in a low-key Bollywood message drama. More »

A Small Section
Film Review: A Small Section of the World

Worthy but uninvolving documentary about the coffee-producing women of Costa Rica. More »

Sagrada
Film Review: Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation

The fabulous 130-year work-in-progress that is Barcelona's Sagrada Familia cathedral, as well as its crazy-brilliant originator, Antonio Gaudi, is the focus of this vividly informative documentary. More »

Inside the Mind of Leonardo
Film Review: Inside the Mind of Leonardo in 3D

Documentary-feature hybrid that offers unexpected insight into the world of Leonardo da Vinci, but nonetheless suffers from a heavy hand and pretentious sensibility. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Into the Woods
Film Review: Into the Woods

Over-scaled, too dark and only intermittently charming Sondheim musical adaptation does a disservice to a great cast and is often so noisy you can't even appreciate the music. More »

The H obbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

After rewriting the rules for modern fantasy cinema, for the better and worse, Peter Jackson’s six-film Tolkien saga slams, bangs and shudders to a long-overdue conclusion. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here