The Broken Circle Breakdown Review
Gaining acclaim from festivals as diverse as Berlin and Fantasia via Cannes, The Broken Circle Breakdown arrives in the UK on the back of being picked as Belgium’s official Oscar submission. And it’s easy to see why. Felix Van Groeningen’s searingly powerful fourth feature, based on the play by Carl Joss and co-star Johan Heldenbergh, is among 2013’s most affecting dramas, likely to leave you shattered emotionally as its tale of two musicians who fall in (and out of) love plays out. Yet, chief among its many achievements is that woven within even its bleakest moments, is a sense of hope, meaning it somehow leaves you uplifted after breaking you down.
Centred on how two bluegrass musicians – Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Heldenbergh) – cope when their daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) contracts leukemia, The Broken Circle Breakdown is often a tough watch but remains an essential one due to the sensational lead turns from Baetens and Heldenbergh. With its non-linear structure that moves both back and forward in time, it would be easy to lose the personal connection but the two ensure that every beat hits, be it a heated, raw argument or the subtler pain displayed during a key musical number (‘If I Needed You’) near the film’s climax. Such is the passion and intensity of the performances that even a cold viewing of the latter, without knowing the context, would make the room mighty dusty. They’re the type of turns that you just wish won’t be forgotten when awards season rolls around and, with a Nov 1 US release, there’s an outside chance they won’t be.
A lot of credit for the film’s effectiveness has to go to Nico Leunen’s smart editing too, transforming a story that could have had all the subtlety of a brick to the face, into one that gradually weaves its emotional impact together with lighter moments. At times, the film bears the hallmarks of a crowdpleasing musical with toe-tapping numbers and genuinely hilarious character moments; a tonal juxtaposition that ensures the darker moments hit all the harder. The numbers also serve to create a strong sense of friendship and rapport between the rest of Elise and Didier’s band, proving especially crucial at two key moments where the sense of combined group emotion that Van Groeningen aims for, might have rang false without that feeling of camaraderie.
It all ends in a wonderful sequence that exemplifies the masterful way Van Groeningen plays with the audience’s emotions, and his peerless balance of tone throughout the film. The climax perfectly portrays the film's dual feelings of despair and joy, meaning you will have tears in your eyes, especially with one perfectly delivered line, but also a smile on your face. Never have we been more willing to be emotionally devastated over and over again – that’s how sublime The Broken Circle Breakdown is.