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Tuesday, September 10

The Broken Circle Breakdown

Best Actress and Best Screenplay from Tribeca and the Audience Award and the Europa Cinemas Award from Berlin for 112 minutes of magnificent cinematography, aka The Broken Circle Breakdown. It is a movie about the joy of music and the sadness of life that fill the existence of two people: musician Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens). It is Dutch director Felix Van Groeningen’s story of passion for bluegrass music, the art of tattooing and life's lack of generosity.

In a series of flashbacks, the movie builds itself into three stories: the love between Didier and Elise, their fight with Maybelle's cancer and the sufferance of the two parents who outlive their child- all wrapped up in the bluegrass music played by Didier's band. I have to confess my taste in music has led me on different paths than bluegrass or country music, yet I gave it a try and Hank Williams and Bill Monroe made it worthwhile. Which always makes it funny- the way a movie not only draws a beautiful story, with great performances but how it also opens new perspectives on different directions. I believe the special music played by Didier's quintet with Elise as a lead singer hugely contributed to the success of the movie; it resonated with their happy times but it also turned their dim journey into a peaceful one. 

Apart from the musical gain, the movie is interesting in the way the love story revolves around an atheist, Didier, who is open about his anti-American/Bush policy on stem cells -which, to a certain extent, is what pulls the film from its natural flow- and a free-spirited Elise. Didier's outbreak during a concert is supposed to show the viewers the mess and anguish he is going through, yet it feels a bit uncanny. However, the performances by Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh are passionate and compelling. Given its sad subject and the depiction of the chemo process Maybelle undergoes, the movie is meant to be a tear-jerker; however there are some funny scenes in the film such as the welcoming one offered by the members of the quintet who all sing The Lion Sleeps Tonight for the little girl. Actually, it is the way the director chooses to mark the dramatic moments in the movie: with the help of music meant to soothe the hearts or the passage of the wounded.


The way the story weaves back and forward through the years adds up to the movie's tension and it is painful to watch how the two struggle to face tragedy: Didier chooses reason whereas Elise wants to believe. She wants to believe so badly that she changes her name to Annabelle Monroe, puts on a smiley face and pretends to be fine. Didier yells his pain to Elise and to the rest of the world and the song from which the title of the movie draws inspiration -a religious hymn Will the Circle Be Unbroken? made popular by numerous bluegrass and country singers in the United States since the 1920s- comes to define their live: a broken circle that can no longer be mended. Music is not always some all-purpose medicine; for Didier and Elise, life is cruel and lacks generosity and its complex and volatile ups and downs bring them to their downfall. However, although The Broken Circle Breakdown is a sad movie, it fails to turn into a melodrama since it is well edited and connects the tragic moments to the musical ones, turning the story into a journey worth taking.  

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