Music has a strange effect on the way people act and interact. Often, we turn to music in or lowest of lows and highest of highs. Songs become anthems for certain events and their meanings impact who we are as people. Music will always be there to get us through difficult trials in our lives, but sometimes, not even music can cure our lonely hearts and horrible situations. In those moments, we’ll have to rely on the family and friends that we surround ourselves with. However, what if even they can’t save us from ourselves?
Didier Bontinck (Johan Heldenbergh) is a working musician in a bluegrass band. He and his best friends play a vast array of instruments and sing all their songs in English. One day, he meets Elise Vandevelde (Veerle Baetens) at her tattoo shop and it is love at first sight. After being invited by Didier, Elise goes to see one of his shows and with one look, it’s clear that the two were meant to be. Their relationship advances quickly, as the two spend their days working and playing with one another. As Didier begins teaching Elise to sing Bluegrass songs, she joins his band and the two perform powerful songs of love and hurt. The relationship is all highs, until Elise discovers that she’s three months pregnant with Dider’s child.
After having their daughter, Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), both Didier and Elise begin to renovate their house to fit their new family. When it’s discovered that Maybelle has cancer, things take a turn for the worst. As the constant hospital trips and trials and errors rack up, Didier and Elise fight more often and more viciously. Stem cell research seems to be the only option, and Didier only wishes that they could all start fresh in America. As things get harder for the family, the marriage and Maybelle only weaken further. The only light at the end of the tunnel is the Bluegrass that keeps them connected.
The Broken Circle Breakdown is Belgium’s foreign entry film for this year’s Oscars. Not only is the music phenomenal, but the raw look at marriage and the difficulties of having a sick child are something special. For those familiar with Blue Valentine, this film plays off of some raw aspects of that film, but the inclusion of music and finding a better life in America separates the two. Crisp editing moves the almost two-hour movie along and you’ll find yourself entranced by the quirky filming styles. The final product is an intriguingly grim film, with glimpses of greatness at every corner.
At the center of this film, is the always shifting relationship between Didier and Elise. One day, they are showering together and singing folks songs; the next day they’re yelling at one another and throwing things around. As their daughters physical state deteriorates, the two find excuses to blame the other for causing their daughters cancer. The shouting matches end in tears and while the words were said in a time of anger, they still sing and reveal something about their speakers. The touching moments of the film arise when Didier and Elise perform on stage together, as their chemistry is simply magical. When they console their daughter, it’s a thing of beauty. We know and they know that they love each other, it’s just those pesky tribulations that get in their way.
Music, itself, is a very important character in this film. Some of the most passionate and touching scenes in this movie come with bluegrass music that will soon make its way to your phone or iPod. As Didier grows as a musician, he teaches his wife to sing the songs he loves. The music brings them closer and they even use it to entertain their daughter. Rather than speak through words, the two communicate with lyrics and looks as they perform on stage. Some of the music even reveals information about the story and the characters involved. The instruments sound rich and the craft of playing them is unlike what you’ll see with most musicians today. I loved every song and every moment where music flooded the film and it greatly helped the onscreen interactions.
At a few minutes shy of two hours, this film does get dull in some moments and you’ll find your attention wavering. The constant fights and bi-polar moods stretch your patience and that’s when the film gets a lot like Blue Valentine. However, this film is not as good as Blue Valentine. There are many instances in which stem-cell research is brought up and is considered to be a viable option to save the couple’s daughter. There are also many instances where Didier gets angered over President Bush and his administration’s stance on stem-cell research. It makes sense, in a way, but the whole scenario doesn’t fit well with what the film is really about. The latter half of the film falls apart and all you want is for the fighting to stop.
As a whole, The Broken Circle Breakdown is a fine film. The dedicated performances of Holdenbergh and Baetens will keep you in interested and the beautiful music that they make will keep you happy during a very sorrowing film. Cattrysse’s performance is sweet and endearing, but it is slowly lost throughout the film. The arguments ramp up and get out of hand, as far as the writing goes, and the film wanes in its final act. The actors do their best with their love and anger, but it’s not enough to make this movie great. If you’re in the mood for a more musical look at a dissolving marriage, The Broken Circle Breakdown is the film for you! If you’re looking for straightforward and raw marriage dissolving, check out Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine. Whichever you choose, just remember to have tissues ready.
The Broken Circle Breakdown Trailer