The Broken Circle Breakdown

Film Title: The Broken Circle Breakdown

Director: Felix Van Groeningen

Starring: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 111 min

Fri, Nov 8, 2013, 16:13


Little Maybelle has been through her first round of chemo when, on a visit home, a bird flies into the glass veranda. Her dad Didier attempts to take the lifeless creature from his daughter’s arms. She’s having none of it. “Where does the birdie go now, daddy?” she asks as she holds on all the tighter.

Didier is a romantic soul: a European bluegrass musician with an old-fashioned love of Americana (“I’ve been obsessed with America my entire life”). But he’s not a religious man. Maybelle’s worsening condition and his wife Elise’s belief in an afterlife creates an increasing amount of family friction.

The Broken Circle Breakdown chronologically skips through its central romance, often running backwards. We’re there as tattoo-artist Elise hooks up with the straggly bearded, Bill Monroe-obsessed Didier; as their sexually charged relationship produces a daughter and some glorious, genuine shit-kicking, injun scarin’ bluegrass; and as Maybelle’s cancer progresses and the recriminations begin. “Say it,” screams Elise, “I smoked and drank for the first three months of pregnancy.”

As Didier’s relationship with Elise fractures, so too, does his love of America. A TV appearance by George W Bush inspires a rant about stem-cell research: “Bastards like that have been slowing things down for years. Pro-life my arse.” Didier’s gigs become increasingly like the last years of Lenny Bruce.

A smash hit all over Europe, this Belgian tearjerker has won multiple awards from Berlin and Tribeca. The plaudits are well-deserved. Adapted and perfectly expanded from Johan Heldenbergh’s stage play, Felix Van Groeningen’s drama excavates its themes of grief, faith, denial and the Rest of World’s love/hate relationship with the US in clean dramatic movements. This is a world of pick-up trucks, heartbreak tattoos and white trash-friendly caravans. It’s Belgium. It’s complicated.

Less surprisingly, the music is splendid and the performances top-notch. We’ll happily keep playing the round for this circle.