Magic From Belgium

The Broken Circle Breakdown

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            You will have to go far to see a movie as affecting as The Broken Circle Breakdown, a deserving entry for Best Foreign Film in this year’s Oscar Derby. If I say it involves romance, marriage, and tragedy, in Flemish with sub-titles, some will yawn, but how about this: it has three performances that are both devastating and unforgettable.
            And this. In keeping with a not uncommon European love of American country music, a Bluegrass group – singers and instrumentalists – forms the connective tissue between the scenes, a Greek chorus of sorts that lets us breathe and think as we soak up the emotions of Belgians singing Bluegrass in perfect American English.
            Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), lead singer in the Bluegrass group, meets tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens) and invites her to their nightclub performance. Romance follows. She begins to sing – wonderfully – with the group, and life is good for them until unexpected tragedy hits. The movie deals with the question of whether recovery is possible.
            Worn down to raw nerves, Elise and Didier try to help each other but their inner resources have been drawn down to zero. They are continually tripped up by the force of their core beliefs – his in reason, hers in the spiritual. The power of the story builds from the deep realities brought forth by tragedy.
            As Elise, Veerle Baetens gives a profound performance. As she tries repeatedly and fails to climb back into her life, her efforts stun the audience. This is what true heartache is. And Baetens shows us Elise not with histrionics but with nearly imperceptible changes of expression and movements. She reaches toward symbolism for rescue and her husband can’t meet her there.
            Johan Heldenbergh’s Didier shows us the beauty of the life he has with Elise – his farm, his music, his wife, their daughter. When finally he bellows his rage at an imperfect world, it is the excess of a man who has buried his feelings for far too long. If his tirade is excessive, it’s understandable.
            Nell Cattrysse is remarkable as she conveys emotions way beyond her age. She has wisdom and innocence and acceptance – at five years old. As the story unfolds, we try, but can’t hold the emotional wallop at bay. Director Felix Groeningen has drawn a raw realism from his actors that is as moving as it is unusual. Their performances, under Groeningen’s direction, mark him as a magician.
            There is a certain looseness to the structure of the story, a few times when you will say to yourself, “Why that? Why then?” The solution to that in this otherwise fine movie is to dismiss it as flashback confusion. Just concentrate on the actors and musicians.
            And whenever you need relief from the heartache - and you will – the wondrous Flemish Bluegrass musicians step in to let you breathe as they lead you to the next place. They are both shepherd and bond to the characters and to the audience.

Film title : The Broken Circle Breakdown
Distributor : Menuet Productions and Topkapi Films
Word Count : 499
Running Time : 1:51
Rating : R


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