After receiving a ten-minute standing ovation at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012) arrives on DVD this week. Based on the play of the same name and co-written by actor Johan Heldenbergh, this Belgian title tells the story of a relationship from beginning to end, 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. Tattoo artist Elise (Baetens) breaks the news of her pregnancy to Didier (Heldenbergh) who is shocked and temporarily angered by the sudden news.
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. 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 impressively incidental score.
Both thematically and stylistically, the film is reminiscent of Derek Cianfrance’s 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 Cattryse in her first film role.
The performances from the leads are mesmerising, with both Didier and Elise characterised by their emotions. Their hipster demeanour 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. 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.
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