Review: The Broken Circle Breakdown (MA) *** and a half

broken circle breakdown

STARRING Johan Holdenbergh as farmer and blue-grass musician Didier and Veerle Baetens as Elise, the tattoo artist with whom he shared a decade of marital felicity, Felix van Groeningen’s film of Holdenbergh’s play was Belgium’s entry in this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar contest.

It’s a love story more than a romance. Because the house on his small farm is a bit decrepit Didier lives in a caravan that over several years rocks to the rhythm of their joyous lovemaking. When Elise announces her pregnancy, Didier starts renovating. By the time she is six, little MayBelle (Nell Cattrysse) is fighting cancer. After her death, depression lays Elise low. She tries to suicide, leaves Didier and later dies.

There’s more to “The Broken Circle Breakdown” than merely the flesh attached to that plot outline. Elise is actively Christian, Didier is not. His outburst near the film’s end against George W Bush’s veto of funding for stem-cell research is one of the film’s most intense passages. Indeed, I suspect that the contrast between the love of two adult children that pervades the film’s first half and Didier’s polemicising is a major reason for the film’s success.

On stage the play has toured extensively. As cinema it has won several awards and, perhaps more significantly, been nominated for many more. Film’s flexibility has enabled van Groeningen to stimulate our attention and enhance the story’s impact by moving back and forth in time without confusing us! And the bluegrass music is a delight.

At Palace Electric; Capitol 6

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