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The Broken Circle Breakdown by Felix van Groeningen

January 28, 2014

groninga

Didier is the singer in a band, Elise manages a tattoo shop, they have a daughter – Maybelle – who is fighting cancer, this is the opening of the film and the center of its narrative for its first sixty minutes during which van Groeningen goes back and forth between the actual fight and a series of flashbacks illustrating Didier and Elise’ life first as a couple and then as parents, so the viewer says to himself: OK, child suffering exploitation, but then the film takes a U-turn and we find ourselves dealing with religion versus atheism, ignorance versus science stuff. This is a bizarre Belgian film whose original title is in English – an obvious play on ¨Will the Circle Be Unbroken¨ – where the actors alternate their speech between Flemish and English and it is full of country/bluegrass songs played by Didier’s band in huge venues in front of big Belgian audiences.

groninga

Eccentric characters and situations cannot substitute a true purpose, van Groeningen’s main ambition seems to be to wrong-foot the viewer and while many scenes and part of the story have an undeniable charm – the closing scene and Didier and Elise early romance – the whole construction is not easy to digest, giving a story a twist is a good thing when it enhances the story, when the twist sheds new light, that’s not what happens here. Maybe van Groenigen’s intention was to expose the sense of displacement and confusion of contemporary European life: Belgians acting like Americans, ranting against President Bush the Second, making a living singing songs with a deep religious feeling while being an atheist and at the same time having to deal with eternal human issues like our own mortality, but it doesn’t work like that: it sounds like drama but it looks like silliness. Despite these issues the film is worth watching thanks mainly to the two leads Johan Heldenberch as Didier and – mainly – the outstanding Veerle Baetens as Elise. As for the the big questions posed by The Broken Circle Breakdown I had only one coming to my mind at the end of the movie: is there really is such a huge bluegrass scene in Belgium?

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