Starring: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Nell Cattrysse
Genre: Drama/ World Cinema
Elise (Baetens) and Didier (Heldenbergh) meet and fall in love and so begin a passionate relationship. Though both bohemian in their approach to life, they do this despite their extreme differences: Elise owns a tattoo parlour, is covered in tattoos and is deeply religious, while Didier is a banjo player and singer in a band that plays ‘bluegrass’ country and western music and an extreme atheist. Elise joins the band as a singer and through their passion and energy for music and life the two have a seemingly unbreakable and passionate bond. One day unexpectedly Elise falls pregnant, eventually giving birth to a girl. Though Didier initially reacted badly to the news of her pregnancy, this seemingly completes their family and they are set to embrace eternal happiness. However, when tragedy strikes their extreme differences finally surface and their love for each other, and indeed life, is severely tested.
At this time of year I like to peruse the nominations for best foreign language film on the Oscar and BAFTA lists and try and see them. The Broken Circle Breakdown is one such film, and I admit if it were not nominated for best foreign language film at the 2014 Oscars I may never have seen it, but I am most certainly glad I did. It is a superbly made and acted film that is deeply moving and certainly unforgettable. Despite the melancholic and potentially clichéd plot, this is a film that rises above the clichés and presents its deeply moving story with brutal honesty and genuine integrity. Within the powerful story the film presents thought provoking ideas on religion that are shown with real power, but this never compromises the drama and heart of the story.
This is a film that does not ever attempt to provide firm or preachy answers to the questions it asks, that would indeed be a big mistake, but it asks questions with undeniable raw power but treats the audience with respect and lets us make our own conclusions. When experiencing severe tragedy it can prove how strong a bond is between two people, but can also seemingly emphasise with severity their differences. Elise and Didier are two very different people, but they are both passionate people, and it is this that means they enter a passionate and turbulent relationship. However when having a child their differing views on life and religion come out when bringing up their child and it is after the unbearable tragedy of losing their child that their very different ways of dealing with this threatens their love.
Dider is an atheist, while Elise is deeply religious and how they deal with this tragedy causes extreme conflict between them. Neither is presented by the film as right or wrong, and both at times say very hurtful things to the other, but their deep love for each other is always there. The Broken Circle Breakdown is essentially a love story, but one that deals with great intelligence the fact that we are all different and every relationship is not always straight forward and requires effort from both sides.
What enhances the film’s power is its narrative structure: shifting from past to present at various points in their relationship and the times they spend with their daughter during her tragically short life. Each scene we see feels relevant to the next, only adding to their emotional power and poignancy. These scenes are sometimes linked by music played by the band they are both in, these are also at various points in their relationship and the lyrics of the songs they are singing only enhance the power. The power is also enhanced by to committed turns by Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh.
Losing a child is an experience I could not begin to imagine, but The Broken Circle Breakdown in no way exploits this for narrative gain and emerges as a film of integrity and genuine power. Films often take a cynical approach to relationships; going for lazy clichés and feel good endings. This is fine but it is refreshing to see films like this and Amour, with an honest, heartfelt and far more powerful depiction. We like this couple and really want see them be happy and stay together, and The Broken Circle Breakdown contains an undeniably powerful and unforgettable ending that will live long in the memory.
Thoroughly deserving of its Oscar nomination, The Broken Circle Breakdown is an expertly crafted drama with an undeniable and at times devastating power that depicts human emotion with a thought provoking raw honesty that so many Hollywood films just seem too scared to even consider doing.