The Broken Circle Breakdown review: a mournful tune

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The Broken Circle Breakdown green light Veerle Baetens Johan Heldenbergh

Electric sexiness and very modern motifs overlie a wonderfully old-fashioned melodrama… a highly gratifying one, if you enjoy a good ol’ weep.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read or seen the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s a love story, and not a particularly happy one, but it is highly gratifying… if you enjoy a good ol’ weep. Like a modern version of the 1941 Irene Dunne-Cary Grant tearjerker Penny Serenade, this is the tale of Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), a bluegrass musician, and Elise (Veerle Baetens), a tattoo artist, their romance and marriage, and how the diagnosis of cancer in their little daughter, Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), strains their relationship. The electric sexiness of the chemistry between Heldenbergh and Baetens and the very modern motifs threading through the film — the deeply held significance of a tattoo; the difficulties in talking to small children about religion, particularly when both parents don’t share the same beliefs — overlie a wonderfully old-fashioned melodrama about how love develops and how, perhaps, it fades. Didier and Elisa bond over their love of music and their appreciation for Americana, and music helps them over some rough spots in Maybelle’s treatment, but later music becomes another sticking point for them, when joy gets more difficult to find in it… and their lifestyle, which is as unconventional as you’d expect from musicians, becomes a way for them to blame themselves and each other for Maybelle’s illness. Based on the play written by Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels, and directed by Felix Van Groeningen, this was the Belgium nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, but apart from the subtitles, there’s nothing particularly “arthouse” about it. Could be a good gateway drug to show someone you’re trying to interest in foreign films. The music is great, too… and the lyrics are in English.

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