Wednesday, 27 November 2013
After receiving a ten minute standing ovation and the Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012) arrives on DVD to bring a whole new audience to its feet. Based on the play of the same name and co-written by the film’s leading actor Jonan Heldenbergh, this Belgian title tells the story of a relationship, from beginning to end and through love to despair. Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens star as lovestruck hipster couple Elise and Didier, who meet by chance and bond over their mutual love of bluegrass. After a whirlwind start to their relationship, the couple grow closer as they perform together as part of a bluegrass band. Living together in a cramped caravan, tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens) breaks the news of her pregnancy to Didier (Jonan Heidenbergh) who is shocked and temporarily angered by the news and storms out.
Upon his return, Didier brings along some restorative equipment and announces that his new ‘family’ will be moving into a dilapidated nearby house which he completes upon the birth of their daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattryse). Parenthood completes their circle of happiness but The joy their daughter brings comes to an abrupt end when Maybelle is diagnosed with Cancer. Sadness and despair take their toll on the couple and the pair begin to respond in different ways that have a profound affect on their once loving relationship. This personal drama is as unconventional as it’s alternative protagonists. Filmed with a non linear time frame, events bounce back and forth yet director, Felix Van Groeningen moulds it all together seamlessly using match-cuts and an impressive incidental score, that often goes to demonstrate the feelings of the characters when words simply won’t do.
Both thematically and stylistically, the film is reminiscent of the equally impressive, Blue Valentine (2010), but what sets this apart is the sheer depth of emotion on display. From the dizzy heights of love and lust to the depth of inexplicable grief, Groeningen explores every detail with great honesty, ensuring that much effort goes into every scene and the brief but glorious cutaways that bind them together beautifully. The Broken Circle Breakdown is by no means an easy watch, in fact it is incredibly challenging at times particularly in the scenes involving Maybelle, who is acted with great maturity by Nell Cattryse in her first film role.
The performances from the leads are mesmerising, both Didier and Elise are characterised by their emotions. Their hipster demeanor is secondary as their performances are organically realised, brutally raw and profoundly moving. However, the visceral impact of the film comes from it’s incredible soundtrack, performed brilliantly by the cast. Each song tells a story and marks a significant moment in the development or demise of the central relationship. Much like Once (2006), The Broken Circle Breakdown uses live music to create a deep emotional response to events as they unfold and it does so with a great toe-tapping, yet ultimately devastating effect.