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Review: ‘Broken Circle Breakdown’ is a heartbreaking, yet terrific foreign drama

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The Broken Circle Breakdown

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Like life, sometimes movies just break your heart. It is rare to find a movie that can convey so much emotion in so many ways and still be enjoyable to watch. Belgium film and newly minted Oscar nominee (for Best Foreign Language Film), The Broken Circle Breakdown manages to do all that and so much more in just under two hours.

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From their flirtatious first meeting and instantaneous connection to their eventually bonding over bluegrass music and American culture, The Broken Circle Breakdown follows seven years in the relationship of Didier and Elise. When their young daughter becomes seriously ill, their love and conflicting ideals are put on trial.*

*This Lifetime-movie-sounding premise does not do the film (and the emotional punch it packs) any justice.

The story is revealed in a broken, non-linear fashion, a technique often easily misused and distracting, but not here – with Broken Circle Breakdown, it actually enhances the experience. Through flashbacks and flash forwards, the entirety of their relationship is exposed at exactly the right moment, all the highs and especially the lows. The film delights in foreshadowing and teasing bits of the story – as if a warning to the audience that some seriously emotional stuff is about to happen, so get ready.

Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens are entrancing as the troubled couple, balancing humor and emotion with what appears to be relative ease. Their chemistry, like their characters’, shines through even in the darkest of times. Young Nell Cattrysse is impossibly sweet and innocent as their thoughtful, terminally ill child. Together they create a wonderful family, which allows the audience to live their joys and pains all the more intensely. Ultimately, without giving away too much that you could not already guess, the film is about loss and the different ways people grieve. Once depression takes hold, its nearly impossible to pull yourself, or anyone else, out of it.

One of the more delightful aspects of the film is the soundtrack. As mentioned earlier, Didier and Elise bond over American bluegrass music. When they meet, he is the lead singer and banjo player for bluegrass band, which she soon serendipitously joins alongside him. Like their love, they create beautiful, soulful music together. Many times, the music allows them to say the things it is normally too hard to say to one another. The soundtrack is littered with known and rare country-bluegrass songs like “The Wayfaring Stranger,” “Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby,” “If I Needed You,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

Rarely is a movie so wonderfully happy and carefree one moment and then so numbingly sad the next. The Broken Circle Breakdown is powerful, emotion-filled storytelling at its best.

* * * * * out of 5 stars

The Broken Circle Breakdown opens Friday, January 24 at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. nightly (except Monday at 9:30 p.m.).

So come out to the Zeitgeist and take advantage of this unique film-going experience and all the Zeitgeist Arts Center has to offer. And by doing so, help support one the premier alternative arts center in the South. You can visit the Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center’s website here.

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