The Broken Circle Breakdown
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 5th July 2014
The keywords resulting from a search of this film may throw up “bluegrass” and “Belgium”, but The Broken Circle Breakdown is at heart a romantic melodrama which incorporates exquisite musical numbers into a heartrending tale of passion, tragedy and loss.
The film adaptation of a play written by young Belgian actress Mieke Dobbels, it follows the instantaneous attraction and burgeoning romance between rockerbilly, tattooed Elise (played by the intoxicating Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh, statuesque and charismatic, with enchantingly terrible teeth). He’s a huge fan of American bluegrass music, and by a stroke of luck she has the look and a voice that lends itself to singing with his band. As they start to build a life together, we can’t help but tap our toes to the beat and wish them every happiness.
Trickily, the narrative dips back and forth through time from the point at which we first meet the couple, grappling with impending tragedy. The script then tentatively fills the gaps in their story in a manner both fascinating and gripping. It helps too that the leads are such immediately warm characters, divided by faith but seemingly inescapably united by fate. With fine acting and realistic dialogue, it’s a pleasure to buy into their tale.
One key selling point is the aforementioned soundtrack – whole numbers plucked out on mandolin, banjo and double bass, with vocals that drop like treacle. Even when the drama inherent in their relationship heightens to convenient/necessary ends (depending on your tolerance), the whole affair is handled with panache.