The Broken Circle Breakdown


So, just days after seeing and writing up Salamander, here I am again with a Belgian movie in Flemish. A very different kind of story, to be sure, but perhaps there is a rise of the Flemish voice on its way? It can only help to expand the foreign film scene and provide new views and thinking for audiences.

Breakdown is an intense and personal story. That intensity, and the care with which it is presented, has won it many awards around the world, including being nominated for an Oscar. The film follows the relationship of two people as they discover their passion, their personal differences, and the differences in their beliefs. Much like Inside Llewyn Davis, the story and structure of this film are based on the music at the core of the story; in this case country bluegrass. There’s a bit of Rabbit Hole thrown in here too, so, yes, this is both romance and melodrama.

Originally this was a play (The Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama), written by the lead in the movie, Heldenbergh (The Misfortunates). The conversion to cinema was complete. While the story clearly could work on stage, the structure and approach were very much changed for the new media, bouncing back and forth frantically between present day and the past.

While Heldenbergh is a strong lead, without Baetens (Loft) to balance him and work against, the story would have been boring. The two make a believable and unlikely couple. Watching them affect one another over the course of the story is a great study in subtlety. Added to these two is a host of supporting folks to fill in the friendships and create a, quite literal, chorus. As an aside, listening to the cast bounce between Flemish and English is jarring (and impressive) at times; the accents are perfect and unexpected.

Director/co-writer Groeningen (The Misfortunates) keeps the time frames consistent most of the time, but with so much jumping back and forth he does have some confusing moments, though none that are damaging. His approach to the story is rather hands-off, staying very much at distance to the moments, allowing them to unfold, but picking them carefully so that they add up to the story he wants to present. That level of almost-impartiality gives the film a near documentary feel, despite its obvious crafting.

This isn’t a fast film, even though it can often be intense. It slowly unfolds, capturing the small moments that lead to the larger ones. It is very affecting and raises questions for anyone who watches it. The ending is one that will cause debate, internally and with whoever you watch it with. While I  felt the rest of the film was solid, the ending was either a cheat or a poorly executed possibility. The equivocation on my part is due to a point of view problem and, possibly, my own expectations. I’m sure many would disagree with me on this point (the awards prove that, if nothing else). It is still worth your time, regardless, and I’m curious to hear what others think of the resolution.

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