The Broken Circle Breakdown is a 2012 Oscar contender and winner of the 39th Cesar Award for the Best Foreign Film. This Belgium tearjerker is a homage to American ‘cowboy culture’ all set to a gorgeous bluegrass soundtrack. The film is based on a play by the same name written by Johan Heldenbergh who also stars in the film.
This film is the June instalment of the 9Lives movie club. It is extremely special to me as I worked closely with the production team back in 2013 as part of my honours thesis. It’s one of those films that stays with you, gnaws at you and eventually alters you.
If you haven’t heard about our movie club yet, you can have a look here.
Setting The Scene
Tribeca film gives the official film synopsis as; “Elise and Didier fall in love at first sight. She has her own tattoo shop and he plays the banjo in a bluegrass band. They bond over their shared enthusiasm for American music and culture, and dive headfirst into a sweeping romance that plays out on and off stage – but when an unexpected tragedy hits their new family, everything they know and love is tested. An intensely moving portrait of a relationship from beginning to end, propelled by a soundtrack of foot-stomping bluegrass, The Broken Circle Breakdown is a romantic melodrama of the highest order.”
Critics Choice Awards
Think about an emotional song. Think about how it deepens, sweeping you along, lightening into the next refrain, just to sweep you up by the chorus again. That is what this film feels like. In fact, Variety emphasises the juxtaposition created by these ups and downs achieved by taking the film (shot in chronological order), cutting it up, and stitching it back together, creating the circular order that makes the film so successful.
Felix van Groeningen, director of the film also known for the brilliant film The Misfortunates, “brings a graceful touch to the editing, letting one moment comment on another without overdoing the connections”, according to The Dissolve. The result of this fractured narrative, they continue, is that it “has the feel of life as it’s remembered—moments out of time tethered together by the feelings of those living them.”
One cannot talk about this film without commenting on the outstanding score. The entire movie is a love letter to bluegrass music. Director, Van Groeningen, took a lot of inspiration from the film Walk The Line that depicts the relationship between Johnny Cash and June Carter. The AV Club describes it best; that these grief-riddled characters are “made more powerful by Van Groenigen’s deft use of music.” While rogerebert.com comments on the “old and newly written tunes interwoven as musical interludes punctuating the film’s themes.”
Viewers Choice Award
This film is such an intimate exploration of grief. But that is not all – the themes of love, sex, religion, family, and music firmly places the viewer within the circles that the director has created by disregarding the chronological structure. In the opening scene, the band performs the song “Will the circle be unbroken” and one soon realises that this film will not let up or let go, keeping the viewer in the circles experiencing the same happiness, grief and sorrow that the characters experience.
The cinematography is beautiful; the American cowboy elements placed in Ghent, together with the Flemish language of the film contrasted against the English bluegrass songs creates a cognitive dissonance that establishes an intimacy with the characters and their reality.
Towards the end of the film, they perform the song “If I needed you” which has broken my heart with every viewing making for one of the most emotional scenes in a film I have ever experienced. It is shot on a stage with one single light with both Alabama and Monroe singing dressed in white. He reaches out to her, the lyrics perfectly describing their situation, and she turns away from him, unable to reciprocate beyond her grief.