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My tastes are truly bizarre. Finding and reviewing cinema's hidden gems is my forte.

One Of The Best Movies I'd Never Heard Of:

If someone were to ask me how I even heard about this obscure[1], independent Belgian movie, I'd be hard pressed to come up with an answer. The only thing I really remember is that I was suddenly watching the trailer for it on youtube one night, several months back. I don't even have the vanishing vestige of an idea about how I came across said trailer. All I can recall is that it was suddenly there, playing before me on my work PC on some dreary, rainy autumn night. And it looked like something I needed to see.

I immediately logged into Netflix and put it in my DVD queue (it's not available for live streaming, and Netflix doesn't have a Blu Ray copy in their repertoire), and waited a month or so, whittling away at whatever I had previously put in my movie cavalcade in the meantime.

When it finally arrived I was slightly put-off by the hitherto unknown revelation that this was a foreign film. Now, I'm not against foreign films, mind you. I relish them, in fact. My problem was, the trailer gave no indication that this was a Belgian production (there is no dialogue in the preview) and as best I could tell, The Broken Circle Breakdown appeared to be a film about bluegrass music. -As "American" as you can get, theme-wise, I figured. Also, all the songs are in the English language... which increased the misunderstanding.

Eh, I thought. No biggie. It still looks like a damn good movie.

And so, I put the DVD in my XBOX One console, and commenced to viewing.

"Didier" and "Elise" sing in The Broken Circle Breakdown
"Didier" and "Elise" sing in The Broken Circle Breakdown

The Broken Circle Breakdown Covers Pretty Much Everything About Life:

The general gist of the plot circles around Didier, a Flemish bluegrass musician who falls in love with a lively young tattoo artist named Elise. It is soon revealed that she is a talented singer herself, Elise is, which leads to her joining Didier's band as a co-vocalist. The beginnings of their love metamorphoses into raw, sensual passion, which ultimately culminates in a pregnancy. Their daughter Maybelle is soon born, and so the story follows their three lives up until tragedy strikes: Maybelle is diagnosed with cancer and ultimately succumbs to the disease. From there we see the relationship between Didier and Elise deteriorate as they each deal with the loss in their own unique ways... ways which the other doesn't understand or approve of.

My ultimate verdict is, the film is enjoyable because of the world it creates. Take for example, Didier, who is not only in love with Elise, but with America (hence his penchant for playing bluegrass music, driving an old truck, and wearing a cowboy hat). He has surrounded himself with people of similar interests, giving the sense that he is attempting to create a "little America" in Belgium. And to be honest, he sort of succeeds at this, and gets the audience to believe he has succeeded. Definite kudos to the filmmakers for creating a wholly believable plot / setting dynamic.

Veerle Baetens as "Elise"
Veerle Baetens as "Elise"

What really amazed me though, is that The Broken Circle Breakdown seems to be about everything.

Ok. Wait.

Let me back up, because I know some people are rolling their eyes right about now.

Obviously, it's not about "everything" in the sense that it discusses quantum physics one minute and Nietzsche the next. Naturally, a film can't address every single thing that has ever existed or been thought of, as this would be impossible and absurd.

Rather, when I say everything, I mean all of the substantive things that comprise the human experience: Religion, Love, Anger, Sex, Loss, Death, Passion, Faith, Reason, Art... all of the stuff that makes life, well... life. The point I'm making is, every human complexity seems to be addressed either directly or indirectly in this movie, and all sides are given objective representation. Which is pretty cool.

Basically, I'm definitely giving a hat tip to the writer(s) for such a mesmerizing accomplishment, script-wise.

(Note: The screenplay was adapted from a play co-written by the actor who portrays Didier, Johan Heldenbergh, for what that's worth).

FINAL POINT(S): Why You Should See It:

In summation I'll just add that there are a lot of pluses w/r/t Broken Circle Breakdown. The music is a lot of fun (the actors themselves are doing the actual singing!) and, as an American southerner myself, I really enjoyed that aspect of the film. Seeing my own culture through the eyes of a far-away dreamer was all kinds of neat.

The acting was beyond stellar, too. Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens were simply phenomenal as Didier and Elise, and child actress Nell Cattrysse gives an equally stunning performance as their daughter, Maybelle. (I feel I should note that I've seen a lot of great children in films lately... recall my endless fawning over Dachi Orvelashvili in my review of Makhmalbaf's The President, for one example).

Essentially, the acting, directing, music, and ambiance all come together homogeneously in Broken Circle to create emotional highs and lows within the very heart(s) and soul(s) of the audience that will undoubtedly affect even the most stone-hearted viewer very deeply.

So, yeah, consider this a fair warning: I teared up at a scene or two, and you probably will too.

In short, it was a great film, and I'm glad I (quite literally) stumbled across it -however it happened.

Nell Cattrysse as the ailing "Maybelle"
Nell Cattrysse as the ailing "Maybelle"


1. "Obscure" in that I watch a lot of independent / foreign cinema, and I somehow never even heard a murmur about Broken Circle Breakdown in the U.S. It has apparently wowed international audiences, however. Not sure how I missed it, tbh.

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