When I was offered a chance to see the advance screening The Broken Circle Breakdown on Monday, I grabbed the opportunity without knowing anything about the movie. Afterwards, I found out that the movie was Belgium’s official entry to the 86th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It even made it to the short list and was beaten by The Great Beauty.
The story is about Didier Bontinck (Johan Heldenbergh), a leader of a Bluegrass band in Ghent, Belgium who is fascinated by the United States. He meets an intriguing tattoo artist Elise Vandevelde (Veerle Baetens), who he falls in love with. In time, they have an unplanned daughter called Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse) who develops leukaemia. It is a simple story line but delivered very creatively and it does provide the complexity of human emotions and beliefs.
Those who prefer a linear storyline may be frustrated by the swinging timeline – it’s as if the time in The Broken Circle Breakdown was like a pendulum that swings back and forth until you grasp the whole message. Felix van Groeningen also touches the chasm between the warmth of beliefs and the cold reality of science. The scene that stays with me is when Didier tells a story to Maybelle who is laying in bed after her stem-cell transplant – Elise lying next to her in a foetal position, cradling Maybelle’s head. Rather than a heartwarming story, Didier tells about suns that are millions of light years away and of their light that reaches us – and that some of them may be dead already by the time their light reaches us. All true – but cold and without feelings or emotions. The movie also poses good challenges on both sides of the argument – to those who easily dismiss any attempts to advance scientific efforts, even when they may skirt around issues that should be handled sensitively, like stem-cell research – as well as to those who rely solely on science without appreciating matters of the spirit and of the heart.
I may not agree with some of the things that are presented in the movie, for example the speech that Didier delivers after singing such a heartbreaking duet with Elise – however, I can appreciate the questions and the contrasts that the movie provides. The Broken Circle Breakdown has also shown me the beauty of bluegrass music. I thought that country music was all the same but now I know that I should revisit that misconception. 🙂 Veerle Baetens is mesmerising in this movie as a tortured soul – she captures the early carefree days as well as the heartbreaking pain in her latter years so well. At times she reminds me of Julia Roberts and at other times Jessica Simpson – I know they’re not at all similar. It’s just that Baetens can capture Roberts’ down-to-earth mannerism along with Simpson’s southern states’ charm perfectly. If you’re up for a music that infuses the music so well into the storyline (just like Once), you shouldn’t give this one a miss.