The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)

A Film By Felix Van Groeningen

Okay, so what we have here is a Belgium film with a bluegrass soundtrack, sound odd? Perhaps, but it works on various levels in The Broken Circle Breakdown. Belgium director Felix Van Groeningen has crafted a somewhat compelling, yet melodramatic drama about the passionate relationship between two unconventional lovers and their eventual shattering breakdown.

American Woman!
American Woman!

Things begin when Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), a banjo-playing, American loving, cowboy meets tattoo artist Elize (Veerle Baetens), she immediately melts his heart and the young lovers begin a happy, carefree relationship. Things become serious for the star-crossed pair when the tattoo-clad Elize unexpectedly becomes pregnant. The couple decide to have their child and Didier is forced to move from his little trailer in the country to an old farmhouse to start a new family with Eliza. But several years after the birth of their daughter Maybelle, the couple’s life changes drastically, as their little girl is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Director Felix Van Groeningen, The Misfortunates (2009), has admirably decided to use a non-linear structure with The Broken Circle Breakdown, as the film flashes back and fourth between various moments of Didier and Eliza’s relationship, mixing dramatic elements, with lighter moments, and forcing audiences to piece the film together. Veerle Baetens delivers a solid performance as Elize Vandevelde, while Johan Heldenbergh, a native Flemish actor, clearly gives his all as Didier Bontinck, but comes off too overdramatic at certain points in the film. It was however, Johan Heldenbergh’s idea to use bluegrass music in the picture, because just like his character Didier, Heldenbergh is interested in all things American, and the film’s soundtrack certainly elevates it as a whole.

Singin' 'White House Blues'
Singin’ ‘White House Blues’

The Broken Circle Breakdown does lose its ground from time to time, chiefly when Felix Van Groeningen tries to incorporate American politics, stem cell research and religion into the mix; the film’s low point being when Didier confronts an entire audience of a bluegrass concert with his views on religion, with an unnecessary over-the-top rant. On the whole, the picture’s final few acts are fairly disheartening; Felix Van Groeningen tries to lift the mood in the film’s closing shot, but again, misses the mark.

When tackling the themes of loss, grief and cancer, Van Groeningen succeeds in creating some tender, heart-rending scenes and having lost a family member to cancer myself, several moments in the film hit very close to home. With great music, gorgeous shots of the Flemish countryside and a heartfelt narrative, The Broken Circle Breakdown is worth seeing, just be sure to bring some tissues.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Broken Circle Breakdown is released through Hopscotch Films Australia