The Broken Circle Breakdown Review – A Heartbreakingly Honest Emotional Love Journey

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“The Broken Circle Breakdown,” from Menuet Productions and Topkapi Films and distributed by Tribeca Films, brings to the screen a heartbreakingly honest, deeply touching emotional love journey through life, loss and unquenchable sorrow.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown,” the official 2013 Belgium Academy Award Foreign Film Submission, stars Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh and Nell Cattrysse as Maybelle. With Geert Van Rampelberg, Nils De Caster, Robbie Cleiren, Bert Huysentruyt, Jan Bijvoet as members of The Broken Circle Breakdown Band and Blanka Heirman.

Flawlessly directed by Felix Van Groeningen, “The Broken Circle Breakdown” was beautifully written, with realistic and challenging dialogue by Carl Joos and Felix Van Groeningen and was adapted from the play of the same name written by Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels.

As the film opens Didier, played by Heldenbergh, and his Bluegrass Band, are gathered around a singular microphone signing “May the Circle be Unbroken.” The band is in perfect harmony, symbolic of life at the moment; good, working well in perfect harmony. No additions needed.

The scene fades to a hospital where a child, Maybelle played exceptionally by child actress Nell Cattrysse, is having her blood drawn and tested. In the same frame, her mom, Elise, embodied by award winning actress Veerle Baetens, is coaching her through the pain.

The Broken Circle Breakdown,” presents the pinnacle moments in the lives of Elise and Didier and then returns through flashback filling in, the colors, the layers of life.

We meet our young family as they are meeting each other. A lifelong fascination with American stories birthed from sorrow and struggle, Didier leads a Bluegrass Country and Western band. Meeting Elise, a contemporary independent tattoo artist, with her own shop, livelihood and success, he attempts to interest her in his love for Bluegrass and America and she, looking for a sale, attempts to interest him in a permanent symbol of his fascination.  It is love.

Our young couple find themselves happy and as the quilt of a life together is crafted, the patchwork takes on shades of darkness of the ups and downs of passion.

The child they create and question as they didn’t know if they could be good parents or if they even wanted to break the bliss of lustful lovemaking with the interruptions of responsibilities, becomes the golden thread in the life these two free spirits are building.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” is gut wrenching sad. We’re not even midway through the film when the first breech in the circle, the lovely child, Maybelle, becomes terminally ill.

The two recklessly try to find something, someone to cling to as the loss has irreparably destroyed a part of their life. The post traumatic stress that follows the devastation drives each of them to search separately and desperately for a lifeline to simply keep emotionally afloat. They question science, God, each other looking to shift the blame of personal, without cause, guilt to each other. 

The parallel story in “The Broken Circle Breakdown” is the rise in fame of the band, which is not mentioned by name. In the opening scenes the band is playing small venues, all the men singing around one microphone, at the end, in the final scenes, they are signing to a theater about the size of Radio City Music Hall. With the deep, fathomless, anguish, fame just isn’t enough.

Life becomes such a struggle Elise even attempts to the change her name to a trigger word from their lustful, youthful, pre-marriage past, and gives Didier a new name also, the object of his love. No longer Elise and Didier she becomes in fantasy Alabama and he Monroe. Her last act of love was to immortalize her heart, soul, love, life, present and past.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” is an exceptional film.  Flawless, it is movie making perfection with all elements dialogue, direction, photography, talent each working together to produce a harmonious union.  

Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh give world class performances. They bring stunning portrayals, exhibitions of depth and range that one would expect from the best, most renowned and recognized talent. Child actress Nell Cattrysse is exceptional. The supporting cast shines also.

With an ode to American cowboy, “The Broken Circle Breakdown” blends the love of Bluegrass Music, acoustic strings, a great soundtrack of country and western tunes adding warmth to the outstanding film.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” won top honors at the 2013 Berlin International Film festival, Panorama Audience Award, at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival the film was awarded Best Screenplay for a narrative feature and Veerle Baetens won Best Actress in a narrative feature and also Nine Ensor Awards of Flemish Cinema including for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Music.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown,” a poignant and deeply, excruciatingly, moving, cinematic masterpiece provides one of the most gripping performances by an ensemble cast in 2013.   See this film. You’ll hold your loves closer.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown,” in Dutch with English subtitles, opens in select cities November 1, 2013.



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