Melodrama with Blue Grass music and Tattoos to boot! In Belgium! The Broken Circle Breakdown, directed by Felix Van Groeningen, will call for every tear you can shed. Groeningen mixes a pish-posh of narrative elements to tell the story of the beautiful free-spirited tattoo artist Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier, a banjo player (Johan Heldenbergh). Elise joins Didier’s band, and what follows is a life of joy and fun blanketed by the American twang of Bluegrass music. It is the music that binds these two likeable characters together. They are a sensual couple who are in love—really in love–with not only each other but with life, and Elise and Didier partake of it with abandon.
Heldenbergh carefully portrays Didier as a talented troubadour who, once in love, tries to do everything necessary to make Elise happy. Baetens’s Elise is settled and confident in her new found love because in this bluegrass world with Didier, she has a safe place to land. In that place, she engages all of her sensuality and rolls it up on the music.
But not one coordinated fret on the banjo can prevent life from intervening on their happiness and, like everyone who lives to tell it, Elise and Didier must search for ways to shelter their marriage from disaster, and are hard-pressed to do so. It is a passionate journey that moves the emotions to the edge. Van Groeningen showcases how this couple manages the severe differences between them. Elise is a believer; Didier is an atheist. When tragedy strikes their 6-year-old daughter Maybelle (played by Nell Cattrysse), Didier grows angry with the world and his inability to control this illness that has been thrown at him with no notice. Elise takes a different approach: she calls on her faith to lift her out of her quagmire of emotions. In all, Elise and Didier experience a marital identity crisis, and we hope and pray they see their way through it. Why? Because we like Elise and Didier; we really do.
The Broken Circle Breakdown, however, is over-the-top melodrama, and the flashbacks border on annoyance. The strong acting and the story itself, nevertheless, will have you reaching for the Kleenex.
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